A Natural Option: Conservation Burial

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 by Susan Everidge

The phrase “conservation burial” may be new to you. It’s actually not new at all. Conservation burial is essentially a natural burial, which prior to embalming was the primary burial method. Today, many in this country are choosing natural burial practices.

Conservation burial offers the opportunity to use an old practice to promote rural conservation and urban open space. It’s a positive way to return nutrients to the earth while also conserving land, creating open space and restoring natural habitats.

Here are some quick and simple facts about the concept of conservation burial: 

  • With the increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of standard burials, the option of a natural burial provides a more intimate and environmentally sound way of burying a loved one.
  •  A natural or green burial occurs when the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. 
  • Any shroud or casket used is biodegradable, nontoxic and made of sustainable material such as wicker, willow, bamboo or cardboard. 
  • Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees serve as grave markers. 
  • Natural burial favors the use of refrigeration and dry ice; there is no embalming to preserve the body between the time of death and the funeral service. interment into the ground in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition.

Here are some things you may not know about traditional burials and cremation: 

  • Research published in 2012 by Ruth Miller in the Berkley Planning Journal, affiliated with the University of California at Berkley, stated that each year in the United States, 22,500 traditional cemeteries put roughly the following into our soil:

               • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid • 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)

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

              • 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)

              • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)

  • Each cremation releases between 0.8 and 5.9 grams of mercury as bodies are burned. This amounts to between 1,000 and 7,800 pounds of mercury released each year in the U.S.; about 75 percent goes into the air and the rest settles into the ground and water. 
  • You could drive about 4,800 miles on the energy equivalent to the energy used to cremate someone; the energy consumed for all the cremations in the U.S. in one year is enough to travel to the moon and back 85 times.
  • Although cremations are considered to be a greener and more affordable than traditional burials, cremation removes the body from the cycle of nature, keeping it from nourishing new life.

The choice for natural burial is a choice for natural renewal and growth, a way to give back to the Earth that sustains us all.

Susan Everidge is the chief director and advisor for Countryside Memorial Park, a natural burial park in LaVernia, Texas, and is also former chief operating officer for a chain of funeral homes in Texas. She is a member of San Antonio Sustainable Living, the Earthen Construction Initiative and Texas Unites for Animals. For more information about Countryside Memorial Park, see Facebook > CountrysideMemorialPark or call 210-992-2143.

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