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Choose a ‘green’ burial that isn’t harmful to the environment | READER COMMENTARY

The White Eagle Memorial Preserve in southern Washington state is a wilderness area of oak and ponderosa forest that conducts green burials on the land.
The White Eagle Memorial Preserve in southern Washington state is a wilderness area of oak and ponderosa forest that conducts green burials on the land.(Handout/The Pew Charitable Trusts/TNS)

It is not surprising that more people are now choosing cremation over traditional burial, largely due to the lower cost (“Cremations are starting to outpace burials in Maryland. Here’s how funeral directors are adapting,” Jan. 3). Unfortunately, both traditional burials and cremation waste natural resources, put toxins into the environment and contribute to global warming.

Traditional burials are expensive and use up a plot of ground forever. According to the Funeral Alliance and other websites, over 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 90,000 tons of steel and copper and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete (for vaults) is bought by U.S. consumers and buried in the ground each year. Also, more than 4 million gallons of toxic embalming fluid goes into bodies and is interred yearly.

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This is a far cry from “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” since the body is filled with chemicals and will not decompose for years or decades and won’t actually touch the earth for centuries or longer. Cremation, though considerably cheaper than traditional burial, is equally environmentally harmful, perhaps even worse. Cremation occurs at up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and one cremation is estimated to use about the same amount of fuel as a car driving 4,800 miles! This generates considerable carbon emissions contributing to the earth’s warming and releases mercury and other toxins from dental fillings and implanted medical devices.

Green burials are an environmentally friendly and more natural alternative to either cremation or traditional burial. Green burials appear to be about half the cost of traditional casket/vault burials and involve simply wrapping the deceased in a biodegradable shroud or wicker coffin and burying the body directly into the soil the way our ancestors did. The remains will fully decompose within months to a year making room for future burials in the same area. The “green cemetery” can be maintained in a natural forest or park-like setting without the use of lawn fertilizers or pesticides. Green burial thus helps to preserve land as open space that can be visited and enjoyed in a more natural state than traditional cemeteries.

Let’s all consider making our final material choice a more natural one that does not consume carbon fuels, release toxins into the environment or waste precious land and resources by considering a green burial.

David Wagenheim, Towson

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