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Exit Green: Exploring Back to Nature Burials

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April 27, 2011 by wcobserver

By Jean Collins

Earth Day is here! Why is it so important? What’s the big deal? Earth Day draws public awareness to the urgent need for cleaning up the air, water, and earth and for conserving our natural resources. Earth Day is to promote conservation and concern for our environment. For many it is a day to consider new ways to protect our fragile planet. For others, celebrating Earth Day is an important way to start planning for a natural or “green” burial.

According to Jerome Jansma, President of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Northwest Arkansas, a natural burial generally means that embalming is not used and the simplest burial containers, usually wood, are used. No metal, no concrete vault, no embalming fluid; the body is buried intact. Everything returns to earth. Natural burial makes it possible to use your funeral and burial as a conservation tool to restore and protect the environment, a way of demonstrating care and concern about preserving nature and natural resources.

According to “Mother Earth News”, every year the commercial funeral industry uses at least 181,000,000 pounds of steel for caskets; 5,400,000 pounds of copper for lining caskets; 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid; 30,000,000 board feet of hard woods, including tropical woods for caskets; 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in burial vaults; and 90,000 tons of steel for vaults. For anyone concerned about the Earth, these figures are catastrophic and disastrous to the environment.

Natural burial is increasingly preferred by people who desire a simple, natural, and meaningful alternative to the expense and wastefulness of the traditional funeral. Many people believe that natural burial is an eco-friendly end-of-life ritual that becomes an attractive alternative for honoring the dead, healing the living, and inviting in the divine. They want to use their burial as a means of promoting conservation and protecting the environment. For those who spend their life dedicated to reducing their harmful impact on the environment, it is contradictory for their final act of recycling to be having their bodies pumped full of toxic chemicals and buried in a metal casket that will take longer than an SUV to biodegrade. To many a natural burial is simply about completing the circle of life and returning to the earth. Reverend Billy Graham, a famous Biblical scholar, states that “what occurs to the body after death has no bearing on the soul’s resurrection. The body that rises is not made of the same substances as the one that was buried, or cremated, but is immortal and incorruptible.”

In these hard economic times, many people are looking for ways to reduce the financial burden of traditional funerals. Natural burials and home funerals offer a promising alternative. It takes some planning and forethought and a willingness to face our mortality. It is important to remember that all natural burials must be carried out according to state and local health and safety regulations. Arkansas does not require embalming; however, embalming may be necessary if you choose certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you have the right to choose other arrangements such as direct cremation or immediate burial. The Arkansas Department of Health requires that all dead bodies either be buried, embalmed, cremated or refrigerated within 24 hours of the time of death.

Many people are unaware that it is legal to take care of your departed loved one at home. Few people realize that none of the fifty United States legally requires embalming. There are only six states that require that a funeral director be involved in the burial process: Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Connecticut, and New York. In the other forty-four states, the family of the deceased can be responsible for handling the remains. Also, it is your legal right to provide transport from hospital, hospice, or other facility to your home, a cemetery, or a crematorium.

Many find natural burials to be more emotionally and spiritually meaningful. They join thousands who want to go back to a more simple and natural way that reflects the values and beliefs of the deceased. Some people opt for home-built caskets and choose to hold memorial services at home. They often build their own caskets or buy an inexpensive one, such as cardboard or pine and decorate it with personal touches that reflect their loved ones interests and life style.
Cremation is an increasingly popular trend, but it is not acceptable to many people for personal and religious reasons. Cremation is considerably cheaper than traditional burial, which can be an expensive choice. Many people do choose cremation as a more environmentally compatible method. Cremation does much less harm to the environment than the traditional method of embalming, burial in a steel casket, and a cemetery vault. Although burial vaults are not required in any state, many cemeteries do have this requirement because the vault keeps the grave from sinking in, which reduces maintenance costs.

Natural burial and home funerals require forethought and planning and discussing your funeral and burial wishes with family to determine what path to choose. Death and funerals are very sensitive topics that should be dealt with openly and honestly. The discussion and decisions should be made before death, which is an emotionally trying and exhausting time for families who are distraught and grieving. After the fact planning can be disastrous and expensive. The good news is that there are many organizations, national and local, dedicated to protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, and affordable funeral.

In Washington and Benton Counties, we are fortunate to have the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Northwest Arkansas, which is a non-profit tax-exempt organization of citizens who negotiate with local funeral directors to provide modestly-priced, dignified and simple funeral services. FCA/NWA strives to educate the public about their rights and about laws which govern funeral and burial practices in Arkansas. Its president, Jerome Jansma, is willing to speak to local organizations who wish to know more about FCA’s activities and benefits or to send membership brochures upon request to Jerome at (479) 521-1909. The Green Burial Council (www.greenburialcouncil.org) is “working to make burial more meaningful, simple, and sustainable.” At present there are no natural burial cemeteries in Arkansas. No cemeteries in our area offer this alternative and many of these cemeteries require a vault regardless of the nature of the casket or the condition of the deceased. Jansma says, “One of our goals (FCA/NWA) is to encourage the use of natural burial cemeteries in our region.”

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3 comments »

  1. Steve Hamburg says:

    I spoke with Mr. Napier. He wanted $1200.00 for a burial plot. I find that to be… unfortunate, when you can buy plots here in Arkansas for $100.00 and up. I know most a vault but if the plot is $100.00 – $200.00 why would Mr. Napier be asking $1200.00. That’s not a typo. He wanted one thousand two hundred dollars.

  2. Gates To Heaven Cemetery is located just across the Missouri line above Pea Ridge, AR. It is beautiful and the view is looking back into Arkansas. They are a non-profit organization offering ALL formats of burial including green “natural”. Contact Freddy Napier at freddynapier@gatestoheavencemetery.com or mail inquiries to 255 Jackett RD Seligman, Missouri 65745.

  3. Pamela fields says:

    It would be wonderful to have the option of natural burial in Ar. Nothing is more natural than the circle of life. I live in Fayetteville, and hope this soon becomes an attainable alternative to the “traditional” methods.

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