R.I.P. Sustainably

How to be green, even in the grave!

Hard as it is to discuss, we all have to decide what to do with our bodies (and those of our loved ones) once they expire. Many of us wonder: What would be the most ecologically sensitive route? For those who don't want to be cremated, is there an alternative to the conventional formaldehyde-preservation process and interment in coffins wrought from old-growth trees?

In fact, there is. Green burial locations and outfits have been spreading nationwide in recent years. Below is a primer to help you understand the trend.

From Dust to Dust

The great philosophers of ecology have always noted how Nature embodies the symbiotic relationship between life and death. As John Muir wrote: “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

Gravesite as Nature Preserve

America's first nature-friendly burial operation was established less than a decade ago by Dr. Billy Campbell of Memorial Ecosystems in Westminster, South Carolina. He owns a 32-acre nature preserve called Ramsey Creek where bodies are buried the natural way, as they have been for millennia — without being embalmed and in biodegradable caskets (sans casket is also an option). Grave markers are natural rough-hewn stones, and the grassy srufaces are strewn with planted bulbs and wildflowers.

The best part is, burial sites inherently protect the land from the development. Campbell says it's a “nature preserve first, cemetery second.” In an article titled “Green Graveyards — A Natural Way to Go” he added: “The mortuary-cemetery business is a $20-billion-a-year industry. If we could get just 10 percent of that, we’d have $2 billion a year going toward land conservation on memorial preserves where people could picnic, hike or take nature classes.”

Since then, Memorial Ecosystems has opened another site in posh Marin County, outside of San Francisco, and has inspired other green burial locations in Florida and Texas. More information on green burials can be found at Ethicalburial.org.

Burial At Sea

If you'd prefer to be buried under sea rather than soil, that's also an option. Sea Services is the oldest and largest nationwide maritime funeral provider, offering both full-body burials and voyages to scattering of cremated remains at sea. For the latter, it offers biodegradable OceanUrns. “Since the beginning of time, man has marveled at the world’s great oceans,” goes the company's mission statement. The sea’s glory and power, peace and tranquility, have brought enlightenment and comfort to mankind. Eternally changing, forever enduring, the world’s oceans are a final resting place to countless generations. Sea Services can provide that final sanctuary.”

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