Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Green Funerals

Most of us have been hearing more about “Green Funerals” recently. I would like to address this in this blog.

We are always looking for more ways to provide the service that our families want for their loved one. We have begun to see more individually structured funeral arrangements that are non-traditional. This can be as simple as only having an evening visitation period followed immediately by a funeral service the same evening or a ‘regular or traditional’ type service followed by cremation as opposed to ground burial. This is how “Green Burials” came about, by people wanting a non-traditional type funeral that is eco-friendly. Usually this means that there is no embalming as embalming chemicals are usually a no-no in “green” cemeteries. This directly affects what can be done at the funeral home in regards to services.

I want to discuss a few of the differences today in this blog.

Because of public health issues, we can not have an open casket, public visitation of un-embalmed Human remains. Usually a visitation can be held immediately prior to the service, if held at the funeral home, but there is no open casket. Many times these services are held directly at graveside as time becomes a factor that greatly affects when services can or will be held. Time elements for holding an un-embalmed human body differ from state to state, but a rule of thumb would be that with refrigeration usually a body can be held for at most three days. This tends to speed things up for making all arrangements, getting family ‘Home” for services and completing the necessary arrangements.

The caskets required for “green” burials differ very much from traditional caskets. Most are specialized cardboard boxes that are biodegradable. This is something that is directed by the “Green Cemetery” as they own the cemetery and they make the rules! Some will allow no outer container other than a blanket or shroud. Some wish to use wooden or cardboard boxes. This often brings up the issue that we are required to use an ‘approved (by the cemetery) container’ or one that the cemetery sells. As can be expected, there are not very many manufacturers of “green” caskets at present. The costs of the ones available are priced accordingly! However families do save the cost of a burial vault as they are NOT used in “green” cemeteries.

Where can we find a “green cemetery”? At this time, we have one cemetery any somewhat local ( two hours away). This is the Foxfield Preserve Nature Cemetery in Wilmont, OH which is on the other side of Canton, OH. The next closest we are aware of is in Newfield, NY, outside of Elmira, NY. While there is a group investigating finding land and starting a “green” cemetery in the Pittsburgh area (Green Burial Pittsburgh or GBP) no land has been bought at the time of this writing. Another consideration when buying a grave is that they can be considerable more expensive than traditional graves for many different reasons. Some are as simple as that ALL graves are GPS located in some cemeteries because no grave markers are allowed. Upkeep in the actual cemetery, replanting natural grasses, flowers, shrubbery, and costs involved to protect and police the natural area of the preserve can add to costs, to list only a few reasons.

Costs are somewhat different because of the services required and requested in “green” funerals. Because of the distances involved, by the mile charges would be involved in addition to the other charges that aren’t usually associated with traditional funerals like refrigeration charges. Of course the standard charges that would be usual like: Services of funeral director and staff, use of facilities, applying for death certificates and certified burial permits, etc. For those who think of “green” funerals as a cheap alternative to “regular” funerals at this time, this is not the cheap way to go, as I think I alluded to when talking about caskets before.

There are many other considerations and choices involved with “green” arrangements, some of which we never even think about now, Ocean Interment of bodies or of cremains, anatomical gifted human remains for research in medical institutions, even “space Shots”.

This is only a skimming of the surface of “green burials”, but these are things that definitely concern us as funeral directors and as members of the community as it changes how we dispose of our loved ones in a dignified way. Of course, we as a people have different ideals concerning burial of loved ones, besides those involving religion and societal mores, which we are always willing and able to discuss.

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