Frequently Asked QuestionsWhat's the Council's position on embalming?
Given that refrigeration is readily available and can preserve a body longer, we think formaldehyde-based embalming ought to be an anachronism. Though our EPA regards formaldehyde as a "probable" carcinogen, other international agencies, including the World Health Organization, regard it a far more dangerous chemical. Embalming fluid containing formaldehyde has the potential to seep into ground water. It also creates unnecessary health risks for workers who are exposed to the substance. Many funeral practitioners (including some who own allegedly "green" cemeteries) act as if the practice still serves a vital purpose. These people often mislead consumers into believe that embalming is necessary in certain instances when it is not, such as a funeral with a viewing. They also defend it as being necessary to "prevent the spread of air borne pathogens." But there's not one shred of evidence that suggests embalming provides any public health benefits.
Is there really a way for burial to protect natural areas?
Yes, there really is. But beware of any "green" cemetery that says it furthers a conservation purpose if it doesn't utilize a legal mechanism to ensure that what looks "green" today doesn't become a place that tomorrow accommodates large monuments, embalming, or burial at density levels that might negatively impact the local ecology. When a green cemetery involves an established conservation partner and restricts its future use with a conservation easement, we call it a Conservation Burial Ground. When a green cemetery utilizes a deed restriction rather than a conservation easement, and does not involve a conservation organization as long-term steward, we refer to it as a Natural Burial Ground. We offer standards and certification for both of these types of facilities. They are meant to prevent owners from altering the original intent for these burial grounds, and to restrict them from conveying these properties to people who might run them in a different manner.
What are my options for green burial if a green cemetery doesn't exist where I live?
The Council now has a list of "approved providers" who will facilitate green burial within conventional facilities in eight states. And we expect to operate in 25 more by the end of 2007. These providers can also assist people interested in being buried on their own land.
What about home funerals?
Home funerals provide an opportunity for enormous cost savings and allow for family members to more easily participate in end of life rituals. Just as the birthing process has evolved away from something that was entirely controlled by the medical profession, home funeral providers are much like "midwives," who assist people in taking matters into their own hands, grieving at their own pace, and having simple services that are appropriate for their own particular needs. Since bodies are typically preserved with dry ice, home funerals are more ecologically sound than those that utilize embalming.
What are the environmental issues associated with vaults and are they ever required?
A vault is essentially a large box made out of concrete. Originally developed to deter grave robbers in the late 18th century, vaults are sold today as being necessary to keep the ground from sinking and markers from moving. For many years, this kind of settling was dealt with by mounding extra dirt atop a grave and renovating the soil. There are no state or federal laws that require the use of a vault, though a cemetery can insist that one be used. Many cemeteries now make vaults a requisite for burial. Vaults cause Americans to bury each year more than 1.5 million tons of reinforced concrete. And vaults that drain out the bottom can cause toxins and heavy metals from to go into the ground, and sometimes ground water, at much higher levels than if they were not used.
Is cremation the most eco-friendly form of disposition?
Cremation certainly uses far fewer resources than anything else, but it has its issues. The biggest is that it burns fossil fuel. Older retorts can use twice as much energy than newer cremation facilities. Some mercury pollution is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, though just how much is widely debated. The Council is currently working on cremation standards that will be finalized in the early part of 2007. They will most likely require carbon off-setting on the part of cremation companies, as well as a commitment to improving the fuel efficiency of their facilities. We are also considering ways of mitigating for mercury pollution. Cost-effective technologies that will reduce or eliminate a number of pollutants, including mercury, are expected to be available by 2010. For the time being, we suggest that people with dental fillings who expect to be cremated in the near future consider having their fillings removed.