Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council near an open grave

Photo: Jonathon Tercero

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Going Green in the Afterlife
It seem a bit morbid to think about the cost and ecological impact of a funeral, but between embalming, buying a casket and many other fees and charges, the National Funeral Directors Association says most funerals cost more than $7,000.

Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council says typical funerals and burials are far from eco-friendly. "I recently calculated that we bury enough metal in caskets each year to rebuild 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," Sehee says. "We also bury, each year, more than 826,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which is comprised of a substance (formaldehyde) regarded as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization and a probable one by our own EPA."

By choosing a green burial, Sehee says you're simply taking part in the way most of humanity has been caring for its dead for thousands of years. Sehee shares some of the typical elements of a green burial:
  • Typically, a person is cared for prior to burial via refrigeration or dry ice vs. embalming
  • The deceased usually rests in a simple wooden casket or a shroud
  • At the graveside, the body will be lowered to a depth that, with appropriate excavation techniques, will allow nutrients to eventually feed plants on the earth's surface.
  • Markers are often engraved rocks and trees
  • You can choose to be buried in a certified green cemetery, which is regulated by the Green Burial Council and run by people willing to embrace a new ethic in deathcare rooted in transparency, accountability and ecological responsibility
  • The typical green burial runs about half to two-thirds the cost of a conventional burial
"We don't expect this concept to appeal to everyone," Sehee says. "We certainly don't want green burial to be used to diminish any end-of-life ritual or form of disposition. We simply want to protect the legitimate environmental and social benefits that can emanate from the concept so that those who want to live and die with a lighter hand on the land have a way of actually doing so."


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