Green Cemetery Trends in America
What's really happening with America's green cemeteries?
There isn't a lot of data on the adoption of green burial in America. I can, however, share several anecdotes and observations from green cemeteries that help tell the story of adoption of green burial in America. The Friends South Western Burial Ground established in 1861 borders West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This cemetery, home to roughly 4000 grave sites, is the final resting place for Quakers (and others) seeking a simple "environmentally aware" burial. Graham Garner, warden/manager of the 17 acre site tells us that while they have not actively promoted green burials, they have had five such burial requests already--a significant number because sometimes a year will go by with no burials. Two families used simple caskets made from particle board, and three used cloth burial shrouds. Graham explains they do not have vault or casket requirements, but they do have some restrictions on headstones.
A very new burial ground by contrast is the Natural Path Sanctuary that opened June, 2011 in Verona, Wisconsin. Kevin Corrado, coordinator for the sanctuary, explains that while they prefer shrouded burials they will accept caskets made from "unfinished non-precious woods" and free of non-biodegradable materials. Conventional practices including burial vaults, embalming, and grave markers are not allowed All graves in the wooded sanctuary are dug and closed by hand. There have been four burials since August of last year including one infant and one placement of cremated remains. Earlier last month a family dug a grave for a family member who is terminally ill.
I've spoken with more than a dozen green cemeteries that have opened since 2008 and have had more green burials in the last year than in the three years prior to 2011. The Green Burial Council (greenburialcouncil.org) and the Centre for Natural Burial (http://naturalburial.coop/) each list about 30 green burial sites in the U.S. If we include all of the family-owned, municipal, and church operated cemeteries that allow green burial options there may already be more than 200 cemeteries in the U.S. where people can opt for a greener burial. Trend or fad, I'm optimistic that awareness on green burial is growing, more options are becoming available, and that our industry is changing for the better when it comes to protecting our natural habitat.