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Green Burial:


The Frugal Funeral for an Ecological Eternity

by Doug Smith

The Ultimate in "Going" Green

We spend our life trying to get back to our Earthly roots, living simpler and off the land, recycling when we can, and doing as little damage to the world around us as possible.  We came into this life naked and with no material trappings weighing us down.  Now a movement is promoting leaving the same way… consider it the ultimate in “going” green.

It's called “green burial” and while it might just be the next fad in checking out of this life, it has some benefits for anyone looking to live (and die) frugal, or for someone looking to go out with as little impact on our beloved land as possible.

The aspects are simple… no embalming, no casket if possible or an earth-friendly biodegradable box if required by the state, a simple marker, a tremendous cost-savings versus a traditional funeral and burial.

According to the Arizona-based Green Burial Council, the organization taking the lead on regulating green burials in the United States, the traditional funeral industry is a $15 billion a year business.  As more and more people face hard economic times, or simply make the transition toward less-costly living, the thought of saving “in the end” makes sense.  It's estimated a traditional funeral in the U.S. costs in the neighborhood of $6,500, that according to the National Funeral Directors Association.  A green burial can be as inexpensive as $1,500 to $4,500 depending on location, services and regional cost trends.

Some states require a vault but not a casket.  Others require a casket but not a vault.  Nearly every state allows for burial on private property with the only stipulation being a minimum of acres owned and completion of the necessary paperwork to document location and burial specifics.

Whether for environmental, financial, peace of mind or any other reason, it pays to look at end-of-life alternatives.

Without getting too morbid about it, here's a list of things to consider: 


Is it necessary? No. Embalming is a process done to help slow decomposition and make a body more presentable for public viewing.  According to Jon Cozean, a third-generation funeral director in Farmington, Mo., and past-president of the Missouri Funeral Directors Association, industry standards require that a body buried without the process of embalming be put in the ground within about 24 hours.

Oftentimes friends or relatives must make plans and travel long distances to attend a funeral.  Keeping the body in an acceptable condition for viewing once they arrive has driven the trend toward embalming in America.  The process could be considered an unneeded cost, taboo, or even spiritually unethical.  Cozean says a body can be cooled (refrigerated) or processed with new bio-friendly embalming fluids and be held for longer periods of time prior to burial.  Doing so would allow family members travel time to arrive for a funeral service.

For the family which chooses to go green with the burial of a loved one but money is not a major concern, many funeral homes are now offering web-based real-time video streaming of funeral services.  For a relatively lost cost, sometimes a free service provided by the funeral home, family members can log onto a secure password-protected website and watch the funeral proceedings from anywhere.  This would save on the cost and complication of travel expenses and arrangement, and allow for a quicker burial of the body... eliminating the need for costly embalming.

While embalming is obviously not going to cause a health risk for the deceased, studies have shown that it can create a health concern for those who deal with it on a daily basis.  The National Cancer Institute released a study in late 2009 which showed funeral directors have a "much higher incidence" of myeloid leukemia.  The risk is linked to the carcinogen chemical formaldehyde used in the embalming process.

Ironically, non-chemical embalming is really the normal and not the exception.  The vast majority of nations preserve their corpses without chemicals, with Canada, the United States and a half-dozen others being the exceptions.

This line of environmentally-friendly "green" caskets are manufactured by New England Casket Co. of Boston, distributed by Criswell Casket Co. of St. Louis, and are available at Cozean Memorial Chapel. The model shown is the less expensive and simplest. More detailed and modern designs are available. The green embalming fluid is the "Enigma" eco embalming product line manufactured by Champion Fluid Company of Ohio.


Cremation has long been the main alternative to entombment in the U.S. Admittedly the process reduces the body to a small container of ashes, and modern technology has resulted in "scrubbers" and other steps to keep resulting emissions out of the air.

A thorough Internet search showed the average cost of cremation alone, with no casket or service, to be about $1,000.  Add a visitation and service and the price rises to about $3,000 on average.  That's compared to the $7,000 to $10,000 average cost of a full range of services with a casket and vault burial.  The cost of a burial plot varies widely based on location.

While an urn of ashes to be spread in a meaningful location or placed on a mantle is less costly than burial, new trends have resulted in a variety of products which make even cremation more varied.  Family members can now purchase wearable jewelry which contains a small opening in which a few ashes or hair fibers can be implanted as a keepsake.

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