CEMETERY MANAGEMENT & DIGITAL LEGACY SOFTWARE
What are the Benefits of a Green Burial?
Green burials were originally known as natural burials because no formaldehyde-based embalming fluids were infused into the body prior to it being interred. Today, green burials are making a comeback for several reasons. However, it is important to know why natural burials were abandoned in the first place before you can understand why they are of great importance today.
Misconceptions About Disease Killed the Natural Burial
In the 1700s, a Scottish surgeon by the name of William Hunter invented the process of embalming and his brother John helped him provide this service to the public. Embalming was, in fact, greatly needed during this time because long distance travel had become increasingly popular, and people were dying far from home. Embalming slows down the body’s decomposition, so the decedent could arrive home in good condition.
During the turn of the 19th century, embalming was becoming a popular means of preparing dead bodies for viewing and burial. This practice became even more widespread once the Civil War was underway. During this era, sanitation reforms were being promoted throughout society as a “war on filth” was reaching critical mass. Of course, people who lived during this time were no strangers to death. Not only were communities losing countless men to the atrocities of war, but an inordinate number of deaths were occurring because of diseases such as measles, yellow fever, and cholera. Unfortunately, doctors were not yet aware of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses, so they blamed the disease outbreaks on bad smells. As a result, they concluded that people were getting sick and dying from the foul odors emitted from trash and decaying corpses.
Doctors and scientists believed they could cure diseases if they curbed the stench overwhelming their towns and cities. While their plan helped reduce the amount of trash in the streets, it put the brakes on natural burials. There were also laws enacted that made it illegal to bury an unembalmed body.
On May 24th, 1861, embalming achieved a historical milestone. Dr. Thomas Holmes had been experimenting with modern embalming techniques, so when Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth was killed while removing a Confederate flag from a Virginia hotel, Dr. Holmes saw an opportunity. He wasted no time approaching President Lincoln about embalming Colonel Ellsworth’s body and offered his services at no cost. Lincoln accepted his offer and soldiers were able to pay their respects to the Colonel as he lied in state at New York City Hall.
Preserving the Dearly Departed Harms the Living
The embalming process involves the injection of arterial fluids that help preserve dead bodies by slowing decomposition, which in turn eliminates the odors associated with decay. While this is beneficial in many ways, it results in just as many problems.
The chemicals that are combined to make embalming fluid include preservatives, sanitizing agents, disinfectants, solvents, conditioners, and water. The main preservative is formaldehyde, which is held in the solution by methanol. The most common disinfectant used in the mixture is glutaraldehyde. Conditioners decrease acidity, deactivate certain drugs, and increase the absorption of the embalming fluid, which also includes dyes. These dyes work to improve the body’s color and help the embalmer see the proper distribution of the embalming fluid. Humectants, or wetting agents, cause the body to appear hydrated, while anti-edemics reduce excessive fluids in the body.
Funeral directors and morticians must be very careful when working with embalming fluid because it is extremely poisonous. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and is also classified as an allergen. Even a miniscule amount of formaldehyde can induce convulsions, stomach pains, diarrhea, vomiting, vertigo, and several other severe symptoms. Methanol is also highly toxic in very small doses. If an embalmer accidently exposes him or herself to embalming fluid, they can experience respiratory failure and even fall into a coma.
Embalmed bodies cannot be placed directly into the ground because the toxic chemicals will leach into the environment. However, the caskets that hold the bodies also pose environmental problems. Modern caskets are not eco-friendly because they are resource-heavy due to the metal and precious woods that are used in their designs.
Green Burials are Flourishing and for Good Reason!
The 21st century is seeing a return to natural burials. People are becoming more health conscious and making choices that are safer for the environment. Thanks to scientific breakthroughs in the death industry, funeral directors and morticians can now work with embalming fluid that is nontoxic.
While green burials do not require bodies to be embalmed, this process helps preserve the body long enough for loved ones to pay their respects at a viewing. “Green” embalming fluid is considered a safer alternative because it does not contain formaldehyde. Regardless, choosing to get embalmed is a very personal choice and some people choose to forgo this process.
In addition to green burials being eco-friendly, there are several reasons to choose this process. Not only do these interments minimally impact the environment and conserve natural resources, but they also limit carbon emissions, protect the health of workers, and promote the restoration and preservation of dwindling habitats.
When a body is returned to the earth, it feeds microbes in the soil and benefits other lifeforms, too. This is a big reason why it is important for bodies to be buried in their natural state, which can include biodegradable caskets, shrouds, and urns.
Green burials are also very cost-effective and those who decide to go this route have peace of mind knowing they are giving the earth one last gift by reducing their carbon footprint.
Choosing a Green Burial is a Wise Decision.
People who decide on a green burial are making a healthy and responsible choice. However, one needs to know that there are three kinds of green cemeteries. This is the reason why it is important to research the ones in your community prior to choosing one.
Hybrid cemeteries combine traditional burial sites with “green” sections that allow unembalmed bodies to be buried in biodegradable caskets or shrouds. Keep in mind that such cemeteries may still use harmful pesticides and non-native turf and plants. If you do not object to these landscaping practices, this may be the right choice for you.
Natural burial grounds have strict rules and regulations. They do not have a traditional cemetery section and only cater to the burial of unembalmed bodies. They also do not allow cement and metal vaults, marble or stone grave markers, and caskets made of non-biodegradable materials. Natural burial grounds follow stringent guidelines that reduce waste and conserve energy as a means of improving sustainability.
If you are looking for reassurance that your natural burial plot will remain in pristine condition forever, gain supreme peace of mind by choosing to be interred at a conservation burial site. Owned and maintained by independent conservation groups such as a land trust, this type of green burial ground promises to endure as a conservation land or easement that will always be preserved in its natural state. Conservation burial sites follow the same strict protocols as natural burial grounds.
No matter what type of green cemetery you choose to be buried, rest assured that funeral directors and cemetery managers are at your service to accommodate your every need. These professionals are also happy to answer all your questions. That being said, do not be afraid to ask if they are using EverArk software to keep track of their burial plots and maintain their gardens.
EverArk is the premier cemetery management and digital legacy software that is encouraging green burials and helping traditional cemeteries become hybrid cemeteries. This state-of-the-art technology enables cemetery managers to serve their customers better by enabling document uploads, digital signatures, and satellite views of burial grounds. Customers can even choose their burial plot right in the comfort and privacy of their own home. EverArk also gives cemetery managers the ability to offer their customers the chance to create digital legacies, so their loved ones can enjoy a unique keepsake.
Before you invest in a green cemetery plot, make sure the management is using EverArk, so you can rest easy knowing your needs will be respected prior to your death and beyond.
If you are involved in the death industry and interested in how EverArk can help your business excel, request a demo today!