Life is filled with choices. Many of them are daily, some are monumental, others take us in new directions. We use our decision-making skills to forecast positive end-results for our own lives and the people around us. Choices, however, are not limited to the mortal coil–we can also make choices now that will decide our impact on the planet well after we’re gone.
I’m not talking about wills or trust funds, but more your organic relationship with the planet. In the United States, most people lean towards traditional burial: a nice casket, flowers, tombstone, concrete vault, and a small plot. We intentionally exit the planet in much the same way we lived on it; above nature. People readily embrace the notion of ‘dust-to-dust’, but then fail to let that very act occur. Do you believe that air tight vault with the air tight coffin is going to preserve your body? And what the hell are you preserving it for? Is it vanity? Is it fear? Are you thinking that someone might open you back up one day and you’ll be embarrassed by what they see? Since most of the world believes the human body is simply a container for something larger (think: soul), why worry about what happens to it? Why spend thousands on beautiful wood that’s placed in the ground? Why bother with expensive accessories and adorations?
The list of silly practices can go on and on–but the fact of the matter is, countries like the United States see death as the ultimate testament to our lives. The larger the monument, the more lavish the coffin. The smoother the silk lining–the greater the person. We want to be remembered, we want to be preserved. Dust to dust while beautiful, is terrifying. It erases the record books.
There are other ways to be remembered. One day, all of us who are on this planet today will eventually be replaced. It’s a fact that we will all die and in some way be returned to the Earth. The choice you have to make is how that will happen. Will your body spend it’s time inside a vault? Will you be cremated and given to the wind? Or will you become a part of something larger by simply letting nature use your body for new life?
Eco-Cemeteries exist to bring back the earth/body relationship that’s been masked by materialism and marketing in the United States and Canada. Did you know that no state or province in North America requires embalming? In fact, there is no public health service served by embalming. The process may create a health hazard by exposing embalmers to disease and toxic chemicals. And yet, we still bury almost 827,000 gallons of the stuff every year.
Don’t even get me started on lavish hardwood coffins, copper vaults, or the myriad of other valuable resources we take with us into the ground. When the Earth is faced with a loss of some of these resources, don’t be surprised if ‘grave robbing’ becomes more than just jewelry and trinkets.
Eco-Cemeteries do not permit caskets made of steel or precious hardwoods. Biodegradable-You is the theme and if you want to get back to the Earth, what you enter it in should not stay with you. The beauty of this concept is that you can decide how you want to go. A beautiful shroud? A simple suit? A simple pine box? It’s up to you and family participation in saying goodbye is a key feature of the process. At GreenSprings Natural Cemetery, their goal in 100-200 years is to have a massive hardwood forest covering over 144 acres. Each of the trees will be graves (if a person chooses that monument) and beautiful hiking trails and recreational areas will embody the site. Unlike traditional cemeteries mowed down, sprayed with pesticides, and surrounded by fencing, these sites invite nature to participate.
Cost is also a considerable selling point. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral in the U.S. is $6500. This is excluding cemetery costs. Caskets alone cost an average of $2,100. Copper or steel caskets cost more than $10,000. The average cost for a 15’x15′ plot at Greensprings? $500. Seriously, take that money and give it away. Do something that will extend your memory to other causes, rather than waste it on steel and wood and a spot amidst the crowd.
I’ve often considered cremation, but the costs there seem a little extreme as well. To quickly be reduced to small chips will set you back anywhere from $1,000-$2,600 with urn and service. Not only that, but incinerating bodies is a toxic process that ‘releases air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.’ According to the GreenSprings website , cremation is also responsible for almost 1,000 to 7,800 pounds of mercury being released into the air each year. 25% of that mercury settles into the ground and water. Modern techniques of human ‘disposal just do not sit well with mother nature; and sadly, Viking Funerals are frowned upon by the coast guard. But imagine how cool an option that would be? Instead of picking a casket, you would have to decide who shoots the flaming arrow towards your floating pyre.
It’s an interesting option to consider when you learn the facts behind what Eco-Cemeteries truly are. At first, reaction can be a little muted, even turned off. However, once people understand the traditional nature and beauty of the actual process, many change their minds. At the dedication of GreenSprings back in May, we had almost 100 people cramped indoors to escape the Ithaca cold and listen with gusto to the people intimately involved in the project. If not for the weather, there would have been many more. Some people signed up for their plots right on the spot. Others came to dedication with questions and left changed in their views of death and the burial process. And GreenSprings is not alone. Many more eco-cemeteries are springing up–a trend the UK has been following for years. In the U.S., sensitive topics simply take a little more time to sink in. With greater education and increased awareness, there’s no reason why these types of cemeteries can’t become just as popular an option and their stone and grass counterparts. The only question is, what’s important to you? What will your legacy to the planet be? What choices about death will you make?
List of Eco-Cemeteries In The U.S.:
GreenSprings Natural Cemetery | Website: www.naturalburial.org | Phone: 607-564-7577
Ramsey Creek Preserve | Website: www.memorialecosystems.com | Phone: 864-647-7798
Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve | Website: www.glendalenaturepreserve.com | Phone: 850-859-2141
Ethician Family Cemetery | Website: www.ethicianfamilycemetery.org |
Green Burial Council | Website: www.ethicalburial.org |