Nicole Keck
Professor Lotz
WRT 150
11 September, 2012
Color the Dead Green
Old metal that had been woven into a large gate opens into a field of manicured grass and
grave stones. Beauty has been sapped from every angle, excluding the lowly trees freckled across
the perimeter. Rows of cars file into the area, all led to the same destination where a grave has
been prepared. A casket is set above the hole where it is showered with white flowers before
being lowered. One shovel at a time, the weeping family watches the dirt slowly burry their
friend, their family, their lover. As the emotional audience disperses, grass is re-planted to
uphold the professional outlook of the facility. Pesticides rain upon the resting place of the
former life where it will later find its way into a nearby stream. Beneath the Earth the body lies
in a casket carved from the most expensive wood the rainforest can offer, where its exquisiteness
and craftsmanship only serves one purpose and that has already been fulfilled. Forever the body
will lay because forever the box will stay.
Caskets are meant to protect the dead body, embalming is meant to preserve the dead
body and green grass is meant to cover the dead body. Is this really what for the best though? A
green burial works around nature, not through it.
Back in 1998 Ramsey Creek Preserve, in South Carolina, was one of the first green
cemeteries in the United States (Corley). But before anything else can truly be said, there is an
obligation to define what a “Green Burial” is. A green burial is a natural and cheaper way to put
a body to rest. It’s a memorial for loved ones where nature isn’t harmed; it’s helped. A green
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burial doesn’t take a corpse and roll it into a hole. It uses nontoxic, renewable and biodegradable
materials for every aspect of the burial, from embalming to the caskets. The material must be
obtained in a fashion that doesn’t harm the environment or it cannot be used. Things such as
burial vaults are typically not allowed, seeing as it may harm the very land that this green
alternative is trying to preserve. So this begs the question “Should more people opt for a green
burial?”
Let’s compare a traditional cemetery with a green cemetery. In a traditional cemetery,
there is little nature except for the grass that covers the graves and the occasional tree. The
organization of Green Burials state that grounds use herbicides that poison the ground and the
nearby streams. Also due to the fact they manipulate the elevation of the ground, traditional
cemeteries have draining problems (Green Burials). Lawnmowers are used often to contribute to
the upkeep where they may cut the grass but they also pollute the air. Then according to ABC’s
Carlos Granda, due to the significant amount of dead people there are cemeteries have had to
move graves closer together, damaging and disturbing remains. Even through the good and bad,
when it is said and done they have tradition and religion that’s been building, growing and
changing for centuries.
On the other hand, green burials try to have the least amount of influence as possible.
Green burial grounds not only host a place for eternal rest but a home for the native species of
the area. The ground keepers also do nothing to enhance the growth of the environment so there
are no pesticides to pollute the ground or water and since they only use specific, organic material
for burials, the carbon footprint is decreased exponentially (Green Burials). So a green burial as
a whole still allows a place of memorial for the dead but in a more natural way. With the good
comes bad, seeing as there are some potential downs to green burial. One question is if green
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burials pollute water sources, since the barrier between the body and the soil is pretty much
nonexistent. According to Cheryl Corely, from the 90.9 WBUR radio station, “Advocates say
water quality will not be jeopardized because, for the most part, harmful bacteria and viruses
become inert within hours or days after death” but the graves must be a set distance from any
water source anyway. Another is that green burials must happen rather fast because a body must
be buried or frozen within twenty-four hours. The cemetery provides freezing, but it could be
another potential cost. There is also the concern that people won’t be able to mark graves, let
alone find them being green and all. The solution to that is quite easy though. Graves are still
able to be marked, just not in the traditional matter. In a green cemetery, native plants and stones
are used to mark the graves. There is also the new option of finding the grave via GGPS
coordinates (Corely). There is also the possibility that one will be refused a green burial should
there be a rare disease or local law preventing it, but those seem to be uncommon chances
(Green Burial Pittsburgh).
Embalming is one of the issues that almost every green burial article acknowledged. The
green cemeteries stress it’s ‘not wrong’ but they don’t allow it because it environmentally
unsafe. "We bury enough embalming fluid to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools, enough
metal to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and so much reinforced concrete in burial vaults that we
could build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit" states Joe Sehee, executive director
of the Green Burial Council (Corely). The Green Burial Council’s research has also shown that
those who have contact with embalming fluid have a higher chance of cancer due to the
chemicals within the liquid. If embalming must be used, the Green Burial Council suggests that
newer biodegradable embalming fluids are used (Green Burial Council). There are some who
say that embalming prevents distribution of diseases. This does not hold true for all, the Green
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Burial Council disagrees and debates that "there is no evidence suggesting that embalming
provides any public health benefits" (Corely).
What about vaults? Are they required? According to Green Burial Pittsburg, no they are
not required by state nor federal law, but individual cemeteries may require it. To keep grave
diggers at bay, vaults used to be required by cemeteries in the late 19th century. Now it’s more of
a way to prevent the ground from shifting and to keep grave markers in place. There are a few
cemeteries that request an additional charge for grave maintenance on vaultless burials, but most
do not. “While the concrete and metal in vaults are considered ‘natural’ to some” it’s not what it
seems because “the manufacturing and transporting of vaults utilizes a tremendous amount of
energy and contribute to 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete being produced” (Green Burial
Pittsburg) for concrete vaults. The Green Burial Council does not require vaults in their certified
Hybrid Burial Grounds, but they are not allowed at all in the Natural and Conservational
cemeteries (Green Burial Pittsburg).
Of all the green ways to go, is cremation one of them? It’s a good, complicated question.
Cremation takes fewer resources to accomplish than many of the alternatives but it burns fossil
fuels (Green Burial Council). It also emits pollutants such as: dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulphur
dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury which specifically comes from the cremation of people’s
fillings (Green Burials). Newer cremation programs though have new technology to reduce said
pollutants to make this way of disposition greener. The Green Burial Council has also started to
endorsing facilities that help construct and/or protect ecosystems (Green Burial Pittsburgh).
Biodegradable urns are beginning to be available where they are designed to break after a set
time. Cremation is not only a greener option for the environment but for your wallet as well
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seeing as there’s no need for a casket, embalming or burial vault cost (Green Burials). So if a
green burial doesn’t fit into your plans well, maybe a cremation will.
In the article Burials and Cemeteries Go Green, Cheryl Corely explains why opting for
green burials are better. “Each year, cemeteries bury millions of feet of wood, thousands of tons
of steel, copper and concrete, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of embalming fluids --which contains formaldehyde, a known carcinogen”. Corley states that green burial is nothing
new to us, we are merely returning to the ways of the past and that it goes by the “ashes to ashes,
dust to dust” philosophy. Comparison in prices were also made, an average funeral in the United
States is easily over $10,000. A green burial is about $2,000 with an additional cost of a casket; a
pine casket averages at $420 and a cardboard casket can be as little as $50 (Corley). Aside from
prices and money though, green burials benefit the ecosystem as well as conserve it for future
generations.
People should opt for a green burial. It’s cheaper, and it saves the earth by replenishing it
with nutrients and giving the ecosystem a sanctuary away from human development. Green
cemeteries are not only obligated to care for the resting place of loved ones, they are also there to
guard the environment so it will stay there forever. There isn’t just one way of having a green
burial either, there are many ways to fit the many personalities of the world.
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Work Cited
Corley, Cheryl. "Burials and Cemeteries Go Green." 90.9 WBUR. NPR, 16 Dec. 2007. Web. 18
Sept. 2012.
Granda, Carlos. "Cemetery Sued for Overcrowded Conditions." ABC News. KABC-TV/DT, 14
Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2012.
“Green Burials.” GreenBurials.org. GreenBurials.org, 2005. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.
“Green Burial Council.” Green Burial Council. Green Burial Council, 2002. Web. 18 Sept. 2012.
“Green Burial Pittsburgh.” Green Burial Pittsburgh. Green Burial Pittsburg, 2005. Web. 18 Sept.
2012.
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Keck Nicole Keck Professor Lotz WRT 150 11 September, 2012