Learning more about green burials

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the Bay Village Green Team was going to host Chad McGreevey, funeral director at Zeis-McGreevey Funeral Home in Lakewood and Berry-McGreevey Funeral Home in Westlake. Chad is one of 13 owner/operators licensed by the Green Burial Council out of 1,300 funeral homes in Ohio. To obtain this certification, rigourous standards and qualifications must be met. The Zoom meeting, held on May 10, was extremely informative, and I wanted to share some of what I learned.

The “lawn” cemetery became popular in the Victorian era, and the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers within these types of cemeteries have become very common. Among the 22,500 cemeteries in the United States, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid – which includes 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde – are buried EVERY YEAR. In addition to this, also buried yearly are 20 million board feet of hardwood, 1.6 tons of concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze as well as 64,000 tons of steel. Burials today have evolved into being anything BUT environmentally sustainable.

So, you may be thinking to yourself: well, I plan to be cremated. I’m sorry to tell you that cremation is also not an environmentally friendly option. Cremation uses fossil fuels to maintain the 1,900-degree heat for the two hours that it takes to cremate a body. The cremation process also releases mercury and other elements into the air and water. It also produces 250+ pounds of carbon dioxide per cremation. Emission byproducts of cremation include nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, and particulates. Yikes!

Green/natural burials are – and always have been – a part of Judaism and Islam. However, they are not called “green” burials in these faiths, they are simply “burials.” When people who are part of the Jewish or Muslim faith die, they are buried quickly, and embalming is forbidden. It is interesting that the rest of the world’s customs have veered so far away from these simpler traditions. 

As I listened to Chad speak, I wondered to myself if we collectively realize how much of a liability to the earth we become when we die? And why on earth (pun intended) would we want to be such a liability? The good news is that we don’t have to be a liability. We can choose to become one with the earth, enriching the earth rather than polluting it. 

Green burials aim to preserve or restore habitat, conserve natural resources, and reduce carbon emissions. Toxic chemicals are eliminated. Wood or metal caskets are not used. Vaults that are made from concrete, fiberglass or plastic are avoided. Green burials encourage locally sourced, biodegradable containers, and some don’t use any containers, only shrouds/cloth.

Green burials do not cause or contaminate water tables. Soil is actually the world’s best filter as all toxins contained in the body get filtered out naturally. Animal disturbances have not been reported. Natural burials are also less expensive than traditional; they may cost less than half of a traditional full-service burial.

You may be thinking, “but embalming is important for the visitation!” Embalming does temporarily preserve the body, but not indefinitely. During a natural burial, it is possible to keep bodies cool for a few days, enabling traditional practices to continue, such as visitation, church, procession, etc. Embalming is not necessary.

Embalming prevents active, natural decay of the body. In a natural burial, it takes between 6 weeks to 2 years for soft tissue to disintegrate. After about 20 years, the entire body will have returned to the earth, becoming one with the earth. Honestly, it’s such a lovely, natural way to honor the earth that sustained our lives while we lived. We can sustain the earth after our souls no longer inhabit our bodies. How awesome is that?

Where is it possible to have a green burial in Cleveland? There are a few options. Riverside Cemetery is a hybrid cemetery, meaning it offers traditional burials as well as natural burials. All Souls Cemetery in Chardon is also hybrid cemetery. Lastly, you can choose to have a 100% natural burial at Foxfield Preserve in Wilmot, Ohio (south of Canton). People buried here literally become one with nature, which is how humans have been buried throughout time. It is a gorgeous nature preserve, and does not utilize any pesticides/fertilizers, etc. All plants on the property are native species. If families want to mark a plot with flowers or a tree, they may do that there. Foxfield Preserve is a nonprofit organization, with the goal of giving back to the earth in death.

OK, I know this is all a little dark and uncomfortable to read, but it’s a reality that most of us should think about and communicate our wishes with loved ones. If you do not want to be a liability to the earth for hundreds – or thousands – of years, please consider writing your wishes down in your will and ensuring your loved ones are aware of how you want to be buried. 

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 10:19 AM, 06.02.2021