Green Goodbyes: The Growth of Eco-Burials

Sonia Elks writes at Al Jazeera English:

On a beautiful sunny afternoon, Eva Moseley wanders through a tranquil wooded area in Massachusetts, pointing out various beauty spots amid the dappled sunlight and spreading trees.

It’s a visit with a purpose - she is looking for the spot where she would like to be buried in a simple woodland ceremony.

Ms Moseley plans to be laid to rest in a shallow grave, without a large headstone, in a simple wood and cardboard coffin.

Her funeral plans are a far cry from the traditional American burial, which has become increasingly elaborate in the past 150 years.

In funeral showrooms across the US, salesman push grieving families towards the heavy, polished metal caskets used in more than 60 percent of burials in the country.

Two million of these caskets are buried each year in the US alone - enough to rebuild the Golden Gate bridge, according to the Green Burial Council.

Families are also encouraged to have their loved ones filled with carcinogenic embalming fluid to briefly delay decomposition, and to protect the coffin with an underground vault made of concrete.

Cremations, which are often thought of as a more environmentally friendly option, use huge amounts of energy and release toxins collected in the body into the atmosphere, along with significant amounts of mercury from tooth fillings.

It all adds up to a huge ecological expense - and it is not cheap either, with the average American adult’s funeral cost running to an average of $10,000.

“There is this whole thing that if you’re not buying some elaborate box and spending a lot of money, you’re not really honouring your loved one,” said Moseley.

“I mean there’s a lot of plain bulls**t about this stuff.”

She is one of a growing number of campaigners for the “green burial” movement, which aims to roll back the excesses of modern western funerals.

“What we call ‘green burial’ is really what all of us simply called ‘burial’ 150 years ago, and is pretty much what Jews and Muslims practice in their burial traditions,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers’ Alliance in the US.

“I always like to point out to people that it isn’t a technological new way of doing things but more a return to old-fashioned simplicity.”

The movement can trace its beginnings to the publication of a powerful exposé of the American funeral industry in 1963. Its author, Jessica Mitford, accused funeral directors of taking advantage of the grief and shock of the bereaved to push them into paying huge sums for overblown memorials and gruesome procedures to prettify corpses.

Read more here.

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  • Dingbert

    “JUST BECAUSE WE’RE BEREAVED DOESN’T MEAN WE’RE SAPS!” -Walter Sobchak

  • Rhoid Rager

    I’ve instructed my family to compost me in the forest upon my demise.

    • wcarver

      My preference is to be left on the ground in a remote area and let the weather and critters do the job.

  • Cortacespedes

    Human bodies are considered “toxic waste” due to all the wonderful chemicals/metals we’ve collected over a life time; so choose your final destination wisely.

  • Eric_D_Read

    Buzzards gotta eat, same as the worms.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUC1JBAj9Po

    • Cortacespedes

      Ah yes, Tibetan sky burial. My first choice! I was reminded of it about a month ago, as I hiked these foothills at midday and saw about half a dozen turkey vultures circling overhead. I shook my fist at them and muttered, “Not yet you bastards, not yet.”
      But then, after a bit more thought, perhaps sky burial is not the best choice for me, since I have been on chemo drugs of late, I might wind up killing them, or at best, giving them some very bad acid reflux.

      As I watched them hovering, another thought ran thru my head. Now is neither time nor place for an afternoon siesta.

  • BuzzCoastin

    my father had a simple wish
    a simple burial
    something the funeral industry does it’s best to prevent
    it wasn’t as simple as he had hoped
    but it wasn’t the full Monty either

  • Guest

    They do mean “without all of the chemicals they pump into the body to preserve it”, right? Otherwise, it would hardly be “green”.

    Anyway, if that’s the case, it’s awesome that they’re letting people do this again (I thought there were actually some laws against it? I seem to remember something about that in that show Six Feet Under), but when will we change the laws so that I can have my Viking burial? I just want to be put out to sea on a wooden raft and then shot with flaming arrows.

  • Calypso_1

    Tibetan Sky Burial please.

    • Jin The Ninja

      i’m slightly jealous i didn’t type that personally.