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Natural Burial

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“You can’t take it with you” goes the old adage.  Upon our demise, we leave behind our IRA’s, our houses, our favorite slippers.  We leave our families, our communities, and, of course, our bodies.

And yet, when we die, many of us take quite a lot with us.  Our society’s burial practices consume thousands of tons of wood, steel and concrete.  Mary Woodsen, from the Greensprings Natural Cemetery near the Finger Lakes, estimates the annual ecological cost of contemporary burial practices:

            827,060 gallons of embalming fluid

            90,272 tons of steel (caskets)

            2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)

            1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)

            14,000 tons of steel (vaults)

            30-plus million board feet of hardwoods, much tropical (caskets)

The reasons for this large consumption have arisen in modern technological times, and serve to prevent, or at least delay, returning our bodies’ nutrients to the earth, to the ongoing cycle of life.  For many of us, contemporary funeral and burial processes are “out-of-sync” with our values and how we endeavor to live our lives.  After all, the substances that comprise our bodies come from the earth, we use them for awhile, and it seems equitable to return them when we are finished.  Happily, there are now alternatives that allow us to plan our return to the earth, simply, naturally.

When I die, I’d like to get back into the system, into the cycle of life.  I don’t want my body to be embalmed, preserved by chemical fluids, encased in steel and concrete.  I’d rather that my burial site not be mowed, fertilized and sprayed with pesticides and herbicides.  I’d like the iron in my red blood cells to be taken up by earthworms and robins, the calcium in my bones to contribute to dandelions and towering oaks.

One of my favorite resources on the topic is “Be A Tree: The Natural Burial Guide for Turning Yourself into a Forest,” by C.A. Beal. It’s available online in a condensed version.  In it, Ms. Beal lists the key elements of a natural burial:

  •             A clean and natural body-management process
  •             A fully biodegradable container
  •             A place to go
  •             People to put you there in the manner you determine
  •             Laws to support your right to be there
  •             A community to help you stay there

I haven’t taken steps yet to plan for my own natural burial, but I know people who have made plans for their eventual natural burial.  I’d be interested to hear from others about their thoughts on the subject. 

Liz Pohlmann is a member of the Troy Transition Network. She is interested in sustainability issues. She can be reached through Member email.


Editors Note: Liz shared the idea of this blog in September. Ironically then, Mother Earth News magaizne published in the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 printed edition (so far not online), the article "We Never Regretted a Private Burial." This article provides insights into buying someone on private property - working somewhat outside the funeral industry. It also provides the following valuable resources:

Comments on "Natural Burial"

  1. OEIC default avatar Howard Stoner December 01, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    This is a wonderfully written article on a very timely subject, however, a subject that is not discussed or thought about much.
    Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

  2. Dan Gibson's avatar Dan Gibson December 01, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Howard are you OK? Not too timely, I hope!

    Thank you Liz, great way to start an important energy and sustainability discussion, but also I think an important discussion about making life more real, in considering the end game.

    I looked at www.naturalburial.coop and their list of NYS burial laws was not helpful. I tried to find something on the internet and found only a “brochure” for making arrangements. If anyone can find something more helpful, I will gladly post it as a resource.

    Thanks again Liz. Dan

  3. OEIC default avatar cdecesare December 03, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Hello - I found this link to be helpful:

    This is an important thing to consider - Thanks, Carl

  4. OEIC default avatar Rose C December 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Liz, Thank you for starting a conversation on a subject I think is important and practical. One aspect of Death is that our bodies are of no longer any use to us. Recycling is good, but I am planning to reuse in a sense. I’m 83 and donating organs is not very promising, but there are other opportunities. I read an article by a Harvard researcher about there not being enough brains to study mental illness. We have had some such illness in our family, so I have made arrangements for my brain to go to Harvard (I didn’t quite make the cut earlier!). The rest of my body is going to Albany Medical School for student studies. I figure there are some pretty interesting details to be found when examining a body that has served me well for so many years. Finally, I have asked a local cabinet builder to make a small, simple wooden box so my ashes can be buried next to my husband. Having made arrangements I feel comfortable continuing in the cycle of life. Rose.

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