Funeral homes move to green burials
Centuries ago, natural burials were the only way loved ones were laid to rest in America. But the Civil War changed that when the need arose to preserve bodies of soldiers who died far from home. Soon embalming started becoming commonplace.
Today, according to the Casket and Funeral Association of America, each year 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, which includes formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol and phenol. In addition, buried caskets contain 90,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze and 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods.
Cremation isn’t much greener, as every cremation creates around 353 pounds of carbon dioxide and the process uses enough gas to drive to Natchez and back, a 500-mile journey.
As more Americans strive to leave a smaller carbon footprint on the environment, the funeral industry is taking a new step into the past and revisiting a more natural way to finish one’s time on earth.
“In a green burial, the deceased is not embalmed with toxic chemicals,” says Ryan Pierce, family service counselor with Garden of Memories Funeral Home & Cemetery in Metairie. “Instead, the body is left in its natural state, placed in a burial shroud and then lowered into a shallow grave that gives back to the environment.”
Pierce says this type of burial is a growing trend in his industry. A recent AARP poll asked, ‘If you could be buried green would you do it?’ The answer was a resounding 71 percent who said yes.
“Our managing partner, John Appel, saw the market shifting,” says Pierce. “Just a few years ago, cremations were 20 percent of our business — now it’s up to 50 percent. We see the same growth in green burial. That’s why we are now a hybrid cemetery. You don’t have to be embalmed here. We are the only funeral home in the area that offers certified green burials.”
Pierce says the purpose of green burials is to speed up the breakdown of human remains through natural processes. Depending on a family's preferences, a green funeral can include any or all of the following: a small gathering in a natural setting, use of only recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers, carpooling, organic food, no embalming and the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud and casket.
“We bury three-and-a-half feet deep because if you go six feet under there will be no positive impact on the environment,” Pierce says. “Green caskets are easily biodegradable and don’t add toxins to the earth as they decompose. Commercially-produced caskets can take a long time to break down in the soil, especially if the casket contains any metal parts, such as handles and hinges.”
The shroud, which wraps the body, is made from either cotton or silk. It also has handles for carrying and lowering and a sewn pocket for a backboard for support.
“Because the weight of the shroud is so much lighter than a traditional casket, women can now easily be pallbearers.”
Additionally, Garden of Memories is moving towards sustainability in all aspects of their business.
“We worked with LifeCity, a consulting firm, to help us better serve our customers,” he says. “We are now green certified. We use all paper products here and we get our paper cups from the Lighthouse for the Blind. We no longer have garbage dumpsters and all our lights are LED.”
Pierce says the move toward a green business is also good business.
“The secret of longevity in this business is gaining the families’ trust, it's not about selling the most expensive casket,” he says. “Green burial builds a connection with family and friends, with nature, and with the cycle of life and death.”
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