GREEN IS FOR FUNERALS TOO
The environmentally-conscious “green” life-style may be one of the most beneficial movements in the world today, yet most people only associate green with living, for people who want to preserve the environment, the growing practice of green funerals and burials presents a way to make the end of life more meaningful too. More than half of Americans now say that they’re are concerned about the environment. Americans over 50 would prefer an eco-friendly, end-of-life ritual, for these people, green represents an ethical and philosophical choice. At Burr Cemetery and Lighthouse Crematory we pride ourselves on the fact that, we have the cleanest, most environmentally conscious process’ in Maine, as well as the greenest burial area on the east coast.
What is a Green Funeral?
A green funeral is generally any end-of-life ritual that is as harmless as possible for the environment. This can include burial in a green or “natural” cemetery. At death, the final rite of passage, we use ritual to celebrate, honor and preserve the memory of a life. Many environmentally-conscious families today seek a mix of traditional and greener funeral options. Burr Cemetery and Lighthouse Crematory had this in mind when they opened, to provide greener more natural burial and cremation options.
A Cultural Perspective
The modern green funeral, also known as a “natural funeral” or “eco-friendly-funeral” is old and new at the same time. End-of-life rituals, including funerals and memorial services, are among the most significant practices of every culture on earth. These rituals have evolved over thousands of years of human history. Many of the practices associated with greener funerals, such as shrouds, have long been in use. Greener funeral practices are often compatible with traditions of major religions. Judaism and Islam, for example, have traditionally used shrouds or simple wooden caskets and no embalming. Each religion has their own traditions for cremation. Consult your spiritual leader to see which greener funeral rituals honor your religious traditions. Cremation is the reduction of the body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. The fragments are then finely processed so that they can be placed in an urn for final disposition. Cremation uses far fewer resources than almost any other disposition option but it does have an environment impact. Cremation requires the burning of fossil fuels, and some less efficient crematories use significantly more compared to the state of the art equipment used at Lighthouse Crematory. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, but the development of effective filtration devices and the decline in use of amalgam fillings will eventually mitigate this problem. A greener cremation takes additional steps to make the process eco-friendlier, beginning with the use of eco-friendly caskets that do not release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere during the cremation process. Cremated remains may be placed in urns made from material that break down naturally in the earth, such as sand, salt, post-consumer paper, etc. For water burial, there are green urns and containers designed to sink quickly and then dissolve in hours, reducing the impact on aquatic life. Burr Cemetery offers in addition to our green burial area, an area to scatter remains for those who want to save on space.
The trend to greener funerals has inspired a variety of new funeral products that are sustainable and eco-friendly. Whether you want to reduce your carbon footprint or simply find a more natural way to go, there are more options than ever before.
A casket, because it holds the body of the deceased, is perhaps the central element of the traditional funeral. Choosing a green casket is there for a significant way to make a funeral eco-friendlier. At one time, typical caskets were simple wood boxes for the dead. Today they have evolved into sophisticated and highly finished items that many find wasteful because they use unsustainable or eco-un-friendly materials for a short-term purpose and cannot be recycled. There are more options now, including green caskets made from such sustainable materials as recycled cardboard, wicker, and pine. These caskets break down faster and meet the requirements of green cemeteries.
The essence of a greener funeral is reducing its environmental impact. Many people find that in doing so they also make the funeral more natural and meaningful for the mourners. Among the options for a greener funeral is a quick or “Direct” burial without a viewing or visitation service. If you wish a viewing, a body can be refrigerated instead of embalmed. If refrigeration isn’t available, dry ice or a formaldehyde-free embalming can be used to preserve the body until burial.
TO EMBALM OR NOT
Embalming, a relatively new practice in America, became common during the Civil War when it was used to preserve the bodies of fallen soldiers so that they could be buried at homes far from the Battlefield. The practice became well known when President Lincoln’s body was embalmed for its formal trip from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, IL for burial. Embalming has become a common part of American funerals; many people assume that older embalming technics are the only option if the family needs to preserve the body for a viewing or transportation on a commercial airline. Choosing not to embalm is fine for direct burial or cremation. Now there are formaldehyde-free embalming fluids that pose no carcinogenic impact on the environment. Formaldehyde-free embalming fluids can adequately preserve the body for weeks. Choosing green embalming is a significant way to have a greener funeral.
CREMATION – USING FEWER RESOURCES
For many years, cremation has been the most common alternative to the traditional funeral. In some regions of the U.S., cremation makes up over 80% of funerals.
Many cultures and religions use or have used shrouds as part of their burial rituals, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. A shroud is a long piece of cloth, usually natural material such as cotton or linen, which is wrapped around the body after it has been prepared for burial. The shrouded body is usually placed directly in the grave without a casket. This simple method uses a minimum of materials while still honoring the dignity of the deceased during burial. Most funeral homes can supply traditional shrouds, such as a Jewish tachrichim or from a local artisan in a variety of styles and designs.
The size, shape and materials used vary depending on whether an urn will be used for burial, entombment or display. Traditional materials include ceramic, marble glass, wood, or bronze. Most of these degrade extremely slowly, making them unsuitable for a green burial. A wide variety of biodegradable urns are now available for ground and water burial. They are made from sustainable, recyclable and eco-friendly materials, including rock salt, handmade paper and cornstarch. If desired, these urns may be used for display of the remains, as they will not degrade until buried in the earth or in a body of water. Biodegradable urns designed for water burial will degrade in a matter of hours to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Those who wish to place cremated remains in a tomb, columbarium, vault, at home or directly in the ground can choose permanent urns. By purchasing urns made locally you can reduce your carbon foot print by reducing shipping from overseas.
NEW BURIAL OPTIONS
Green Burial is a “New” practice that is a very old practice because it is based on methods used by most cultures, including in the US for thousands of years. Green burial means that the body, which is not embalm (or embalmed with eco-friendly embalming fluids) is buried in an eco-friendly casket, or shroud in a manner that allows the body to return to the earth as quickly as possible. That is why green burial is also called “eco-burial” or “natural burial”. In a green burial, graves are dug by hand, Landscaping consist of native plants and trees that help preserve habitat for animals. There are no manicured lawns, eliminating the need for chemicals, irrigation and gas powered mowers. Trees, natural stones and other materials are used in place of traditional headstones. Some green cemeteries use GPS coordinates to mark graves. Currently there are only a handful of green cemeteries in the US, and less than 5 here in Maine. Burr Cemetery is the only green cemetery that employs all possible green options. No vaults, no gas-powered equipment, only indigenous rocks allowed for grave marking, no plantings only eco-friendly containers or scattering, and a portion of lot sales goes to the Freeport Conservation Trust to support land conservation efforts, and GPS is used to locate lots. Even in a conventional cemetery, you can still choose a greener burial. Use a green casket or a shroud. Ask if the burial can be dug by hand and not with heavy equipment. To protect the burial sites from sinking many conventional require either a vault or grave liner. But this practice is not employed in green cemeteries. The greener option allows the body and/or casket to return more naturally to the earth. If you choose cremation, there are additional greener burial options such as: Water Burial: Cremated remains can sink to the bottom of the ocean in a biodegradable container designed to break down within hours. Scattering: Cremated remains are disposed of in the ocean or on land. Many cemeteries offer a scattering ground, which provide a convenient place for families to return to when they want to remember their departed. Note: Water burial and scattering are governed by state and federal laws please go to our web site www.cremationmaine.com and see “Scattering Ashes” for a detailed explanation of the laws.
HEADSTONES, TABLETS AND MEMORIALS
The practice of marking a grave is an important part of remembering a loved one. For green cemeteries, an engraved rock from the local area is a nice a way to memorialize a loved one while keeping the natural feel of the green cemetery. Greener options are available for traditional memorials as well ask your memorial provider for stone indigenous to the U.S.