Why Green Burial?

Mini Quiz on Natural Deathcare

Choose one of the following answers to the question:

Which is the greenest (most environmentally friendly and best for the earth) and most nurturing for you?

A) Burial in a conventional cemetery (includes concrete or steel wrap, embalming, and metal casket), pesticide drift, and heavy steel or concrete surrounds.

B) Cremation — being burned in a crematory oven including mercury fillings, a plastic body bag, and high heat carbon emissions. Your family will have a brief time to say goodbye in the industrial unit.

C) Burial at Sea — your remains are put in a wood casket and eventually dispersed into the sea water.

D) Alkaline Hydrolysis – rapidly speeds up the ordinary decay process using heat, pressure, and an alkaline substance such as potassium or sodium hydroxide to dissolve your body into liquid and bone fragments.
(This is the latest so-called “green” alternative to cremation, but there is mercury, plastic body bags, and plastic or silicon surgical implants are apparently disposed of with the hydrolyzed body into the sewer; meanwhile, mercury dental fillings are pulverized in a machine along with the deceased’ bones, causing polluting vapors to be released as a public and employer health hazard.)

E) Green Burial — your body is enshrouded in silk or cotton, placed in a biodegradable casket or shroud and returned to the earth, where your nutrients are released into the earth to be cradled and reabsorbed into the new life of a native tree or wildflower meadow, locatable by GPS, and commemorated on a plaque by which you will be remembered.

What is Green Burial?

Green Burial is a twenty-year-old movement that has re-emerged in America, along with a similar movement in England, to bring back the age-old traditions of burying our family and friends naturally. Since the beginning of time, humans have buried their families nearby or on their own land. More recently, legislation in all states has reinstated laws allowing home funerals and, in some states, home burials in non-urban areas. In contrast to the 150-year-old funeral home industry which has taken the dead out of our hands, the Green Burial movement encourages us to bring home our family members, to celebrate their lives, and bury our loved ones on protected ground.

The John Muir Memorial Green Burial Sanctuary and Refuge is a dedicated, pristine large parcel acreage with plans for a Memorial Hall.  We have found the perfect parcel of land just outside of Ashland, Oregon, in the foothills of the spectacular Siskiyou mountain range.  Unlike most “green burial” plots located in cemeteries across America our burial grounds are 100% natural, without the use of any landscaping pesticides such as RoundUp, steel vaults buried around a non-biodegradable casket,  cancer-causing embalming fluids and other toxic residues. We are beginning the process of certification by the Green Burial Council as both a green burial preserve.

The Sanctuary building and Refuge Rooms
We offer not only beautiful and quiet meadows in which you, your family and loved ones may “lay down in green pastures,” we will also build environmentally-sensitive eco-building in which memorials, natural funerals or one-to-three day vigils may be reserved. The Sanctuary will be available for this use by individuals and families, and eventually, The Refuge bed and breakfast may be available for families needing overnight accommodations when traveling from out of town.

Burial of Cremation Remains (“cremains”)
While we discourage cremation due to the already heavy burden of toxins we carry in our bodies we will accommodate the burial of cremains without any container.

Disability Plots
For those family members who wish to have disability or wheelchair access for grave visitation, we will offer a dedicated accessible burial ground near the Sanctuary building. This area will be available for private visitation by the disabled individual and their families.

Companion Animal Burial and Large Animal Plots
We will offer a dedicated garden for beloved small animal companions in a garden plot near the Sanctuary and accessible to the elderly and disabled. A small stone may be engraved with a name and message to be placed at the site of burial. A biodegradable container or shroud may be used in which to bury a beloved pet. Large animals such as horses will require a larger plot in the meadow cemetery.

Understanding the Need for Green Burial

The “Traditional” Funeral and Cemetery:  An Industry With High Costs to You and to the Earth on which life depends

The “traditional” funeral home concept is really a modern idea with a history of less than 150 years in the United States. Its cultural beginnings were in Victorian times, following the Civil War’s end of 1865, when there were so many deceased soldiers to bury that cabinetmakers were hired to build wooden coffins. By the 1880s an industry of outsourced funeral parlors was developed. Prior to the industry, a home-based parlor room was used for funerals, and the deceased were buried them on their land or in the nearby churchyard.  Within 150 years, American society has transferred their deathcare to what has become one major funeral corporation, with many small family funeral homes shutting down or converting over to crematories.

This has led to extremely high costs and indebtedness to the families, who often have to make difficult decisions when they are in deep grief, resulting in personal or family debts of $25,000 or more for a burial. This indebtedness can mean lost inheritances or financial burdens on our children or grandchildren.

The environmental concerns include the embodied toxins used in the embalming process,  despite the short life of embalming fluids for mere days . Licensed embalmers use over 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde a year, which is a cancer-causing chemical. The formaldehyde eventually released into the groundwater causes destruction of the decomposer microbes that are necessary for the breakdown of the body into the soil.

Chemicals used in embalming eventually run off into our water supply, and cancer rates continue to skyrocket with a deadly impact. Embalmers as a profession have a very high rate of 74% for leukemia. More people are dying from toxic chemical exposure than ever, despite modern medicine’s attempt to sanitize and preserve the human body.

In addition, there are the less obvious but more permanent environmental costs which can wreak havoc on the health of ourselves and our children for many generations. These costs include the heavy metal coffins and neurotoxic pesticides used to maintain a weed-free “golf-course” style of cemetery or memorial lawn. Cemeteries needlessly use over 900,000 gallons of RoundUp every year, which causes lymphoma in humans.  Additional herbicides and pesticides are deadly to songbirds, migratory birds, and bees, which provide sustenance to humans through pollination that is essential for the creation of our very food.

Meanwhile, about 22,500 cemeteries across the United States offering conventional funerals and “hybrid” green cemeteries continue to bury along with 1.5M deceased:
 
    • 20 million board feet of wood caskets (including endangered rainforest woods)
    • 90,272 tons of metal caskets
    • 64,500 tons of steel vaults — more than enough to build a Golden Gate Bridge every year
    • 34,000 pounds of copper and bronze used in caskets
    • 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete vaults – enough to build a highway across the US and back every year
    • 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid or cancer-causing formaldehyde
    • Medical studies show high rates of leukemias, ALS, and neurological diseases for embalmers as well as a 13% higher death rate. Cremators have a high rate of respiratory disease such as COPD.
    • millions of gallons of RoundUp  are used for convenience of lawn care which endanger pollinators and our food supply 
Cremation is even more polluting and cancer-causing.  More than one million bodies are cremated every year, with a major impact:
    • An enormous amount of fossil fuel is used to heat up the 1200-2400 degree cremation ovens: 1.7 Billion pounds of CO2 are emitted every year in the US alone.
    • Mercury from dental fillings and plastics from surgical implants are out-gassed into local air and eventually into water.  Both humans and mammals are testing positive for mercury. There are 21 years of NIH studies which show mercury deposits in the human brain are the same configurations of Lewy bodies in Alzheimer’s patients on autopsy. There are no adequate filters on the ovens for mercury and plastic particles.
    • Acid rain is produced from byproducts of nitrogen oxide, dioxins and particulate.
    • The so-called “ashes” – actually ground-up bone fragments (calcium phosphate sodium) – don’t biodegrade for thousands of years, whether in the earth or ocean.

Twenty years of studies are now revealing that such pesticides as glyphosate sprayed over decades are showing up in the blood samples of our grandchildren and causing neurotoxic birth defects and birth anomalies. Indeed, most of us alive today have measurable levels of glyphosate in our blood. Where we once had burial grounds complete with butterflies and pollinators like the honeybee, we now have species essential to our survival to be on the verge of extinction. In the model of our ancestors, and for the future of our grandchildren, it’s time we clean up the concept of our cemeteries and rebuild a time-honored tradition.

At such a vulnerable time, when families and heirs are coping with the death of a loved one, they are suddenly faced with a funeral process that will cost upwards of $10,000 to $25k for a burial plot, a higher-end casket, a memorial service, and a green lawn cemetery burial. Decisions can be made under pressure and stress that are wasteful of your assets and dangerous to human health.

The Green Burial Process

The Green or natural burial process is a way of caring for the dead with the most minimal environmental impact of all the funeral methods. It is the most simple,  the most cost-effective, and is the most environmentally-responsible. In fact, the green burial process has been happening for millions of years with a simple burial of a human body into the earth, and within the last twenty years the Green Burial movement has resurged as a global interest in “giving back to the earth” and remains the most environmentally-friendly form of burial with the least impact on nature.

According to a Medium article exit poll, 79% were interested in having a green burial. This is a simple, natural method of a funeral in which the body is prepared without any chemicals, is buried with only biodegradable materials, and has only minimal changes made to the earth at the burial site.

Green burials can be found in certified Green Burial sanctuaries such as ours, on private property (in accordance with local zoning laws) or in a “hybrid” conventional cemetery. In 1998, the first dedicated green burial preserve was opened by a local doctor as Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina. As of March 2019 there were a total of 59 certified Green Burial Council cemeteries that have “natural” or “hybrid” standards across 23 states, from Lexington, Maine to Mill Valley, California. The Green Burial Council has three categories for certification, from conventional cemeteries with green burial “plots” to their most green category of Conservation burial, “sanctuary” or “Preserve.”

In 2014, an award-winning documentary on conscious dying and green burial, The Most Excellent Dying of Theodore Jack Heckelman, was produced by his sister Nancy Poer, who served on the California state CARE committee for creating end-of-life policy. Another documentary, A Family Undertaking, is PBS-produced, while the 2005 HBO series Six Feet Under featured natural burial. A 2014 documentary, A Will for the Woods, documents natural burial of a terminally-ill man from North Carolina. Recent legislation in Oregon and California allows for natural burial on some private properties within county rules and guidelines.

The green burial movement assists with the conservation of natural resources, has no carbon emissions, protects against the use of carcinogenic and other toxic chemicals from embalming and in cemeteries, and can help restore ancient rites of passage as well as preserve wild animal habitat and migration. Certification by the Green Burial Council helps with transitioning to higher standards of practice and care in conventional cemeteries, maintaining highest standards of eco-cemeteries, and can guide those interested in home funerals and natural burial.

In addition, the National Home Funeral Alliance is a group of volunteers nationwide who support home funerals, which  are legal in all 50 states and which naturally progress to green burial cemeteries. On their website, they refer to a list of natural burial spaces in the US and Canada and support the principles and standards of the green burial movement. Although state laws vary according to required periods for funerals or green burials, the movement is well underway to become the leading method for end-of-life care in the United States, setting a trend for worldwide home-based funerals and green burials.

This has created a new movement from the public searching for alternatives. Across the country, volunteer Threshold groups are supporting families to create their own end-of-life choices and care, such as assisted deathcare for a terminally-ill family member, the traditional three-day vigil as an alternative to expensive funeral wakes, and  grief support groups led by trained volunteers.

The Sanctuary plans  to offer the space for additional services to families wishing to have memorials, reunions around the three-day vigil or a Celebration of Life in an on-site, green-built Hall. We offer compassionate support or refer out to support individuals and families through their grief process. Ministers, rabbis, and all facilitators of memorials are welcome to use our beautiful memorial hall.  Local, trained volunteers, death doulas or transition “midwives” may assist in meeting daily practical and emotional needs of grieving families.

 

Conventional Funeral, Cremation, and Green Burial:

A Cost Comparison

Conventional Funeral Costs
Funeral homes are required by law to offer the consumer an itemized price list. From one average funeral home, we found that a minimal cost was:

Receiving remains from mortuary or another funeral home ……..$2,215
Transportation of deceased to the cemetery within 25 miles……..$ 295
Refrigeration of un-embalmed deceased ………………………………………….$ 295
Immediate burial (burial without service or visitation or casket)                                                                                                                              $2,270 to $9,565

That is a minimum of $5,075 before adding the visitation or funeral home use, funeral, shroud or casket, and headstone. Additional fees for a conventional funeral could easily cost any of the following:

Full preparation of the body with Embalming ………………………………….. $810 With Public Visitation …………………………………………………………………….extra $130
Special Care of Autopsied Remains ……………………………………………………. $300 Use of Funeral home and staff ……………………………………………………………… $595
Casket designed for burial …………………………………………… $1,195 to $10,995+ Outer burial liner ………………………………………………………………….. .$995 to $3,295
Clergy or service officiate ……………………………………………………. minimum $175 Obituary …………………………………………………………………………………………. $100-$1000
Headstone ……………………………………………………………………………… $600 to $5,000 Memorial Marker …………………….. $550+ or Cremation Urn…$15 to $1,595
Death Certificate ………………………………………………………………………………………….. $25 Vinyl Pouch (bodybag) ……………………………………………………………………………… $100 Tribute DVD …………………………………………………………………………………………………. $200 Organ Donation ………………………………………………………………………………………….. $395
Transport of remains to or from an airport ……………………………………….. $975 Holiday Surcharge …………………………………………………………………………………….. $295

The average cost of a conventional funeral is over $7,000. Because those making the arrangements may make emotional decision during the grief process, they naturally tend to buy more expensive caskets and accessories that run the bill up much higher. The costs are expected to rise in the future.

Another major cost of modern funerals is the increasing cost of land in the US. Many older cemeteries were developed when land costs were less than a dollar per acre. In many urban areas now, an acre can cost $250,000 or more. As a consequence, what may be sold as “permanent” housing of the deceased could in the future be subject to disinterring, as is the case in Europe, where land costs have been at a premium for centuries. Sources from Wikipedia report: “Some cities in Germany do not have plots for sale, only for lease. When the lease expires, the remains are disinterred and a specialist bundles the bones, inscribes the forehead of the skull with the information that was on the headstone, and places the remains in a special crypt… Many cemeteries, particularly in Japan and Europe as well as those in larger cities, have run out of permanent space. In Tokyo, for example, traditional burial plots are extremely scarce and expensive.”

Cremation Costs
Generally speaking, cremation is cheaper than a traditional burial service, especially if simple cremation is chosen, in which the body is cremated as soon as legally possible without any sort of funeral. However, for some, even cremation is still relatively expensive, especially since a lot of fuel is required to perform it.

A 2017 quote from a West Coast funeral home listed the minimum price of cremation as $2,200 for the cremation itself plus incremental charges for every 10 minutes of attendance by the family. Then, although it is generally forbidden or illegal to scatter the ashes, many people scatter the remains in public places or pay an expense to inter the remains in cremation plots, columbariums, or permanent receptacles. What may seem to be a smaller and therefore environmentally-friendly receptacle may over time leach heavy metals or plastics into the environment.

The average cost of a typical cremation, including the cremation container, memorial ceremony and burying the cremated remains is just over $6,000.  Pre-need sales may advertise a cost $1,000 or less, but the pressure is on to buy additional items especially at the time of service when the grieving are most vulnerable. These costs also are expected to rise in the future.

Green Burial Costs

In contrast to the costs of $7,000+ for a funeral home/cemetery burial, and $6,000 for cremation burial, the cost for a Conservation Green Burial in the John Muir Green Burial Sanctuary is 1,000-5,000 depending on burial preferences, excluding upgraded casket cost. This includes transportation of the body locally or from a nearby international airport, the burial area and its maintenance, the cost to open and close the grave, GPS location, and a native tree or native wildflower seeding.

In summary, the total cost comparison is the following:
Conventional funeral and burial ………………………………….  $7,000 (and up)
Cremation and internment …………………………………………….$6,000 (or more)
Green burial ……………………………………………………………………….. $1,000 to 5,000        ( or less, for multiple purchases, partner plots, or family plots )