Going Green… Permanently, by Nicole Walton

You recycle. Every bit of plastic and paper you can find is collected and set aside on trash day because you can’t stand the thought of it sitting in a landfill for the next billion years. It just doesn’t sit right.

But have you ever considered what will happen when you shuffle off your mortal coil? How will your body or ashes commune with the earth when you’ve gone on to bigger and better things? Will your final disposition be environmentally sound?

The movement to be more earth-friendly is manifesting itself as “green burials” in today’s funeral homes. People are choosing alternatives to the traditional embalming process, caskets, and final resting place in an effort to be kinder to Mother Earth.

Mark Canale is the owner and director of Canale Funeral Homes in Marquette, Gwinn and Ishpeming. He says in a green burial the embalming fluid normally used would be replaced with one that degrades naturally. Traditional fluid contains formaldehyde, which is excellent for preservation but is also highly toxic. The casket would be made of plain wood, wicker, or bamboo, and would not be held together with any nails, bolts, or screws. It would be placed directly in the ground instead of in a concrete vault. Cremated remains would be put in some type of biodegradable urn.

Canale says he’s all for green burials, being a recycler himself. “Funeral directors sell burial vaults, but you’re putting a piece of concrete in the ground, and the concrete continues to cure for over 100 years and it will never, ever disintegrate,” he says. “So you’re putting all that stuff in the ground for what? The purpose of the burial vault was to prevent the ground from collapsing over a period of time, creating a sunken grave and additional cemetery maintenance, but I’m one for using wood caskets and putting them directly in the earth, or going the green burial route.”

Most people in the Upper Peninsula aren’t aware of the options they have when it comes to recycling their most precious possession. Canale says the green burial movement is growing in metropolitan areas, but not many of his clients in this region question him about it. He has, however, brought up the possibility of creating green spaces with local cemetery directors. “They all have plenty of acreage to set aside a little plot of land for green burial, which would mean that there may be walkways but there can be no bituminous or concrete, no roadways, no grass to mow,” he says. “So if you buy a little section of land for your eventual burial place, you receive a GPS coordinate.” Some green burial areas don’t allow any markings at all, but others will let people indicate the spot where the remains of their loved ones lie with a simple, natural stone.

As far as money is concerned, going green would cost less than a traditional burial. Canale says he doesn’t know exactly how much a lot would be since area cemeteries don’t offer green space as yet. He’s guessing it would range from $1,000 to $1,200. A traditional casket costs roughly $800, and dispensing with the vault is a $1,300 to $1,400 savings. Canale says some cemeteries may even allow a body to be placed directly into the earth without a casket; it depends on what the cemetery draws up in its bylaws for green burial.

If it’s not a traditional burial, is it any less sacred? Not according to Canale. “No. If anything, it’s probably a little bit more sacred and has every bit of meaning because that’s where your loved one is interred—their early remains—so whether it be in a fancy cemetery with a well-manicured lawn and a fancy granite marker, or whether it’s in an area where there are plenty of trees and the leaves fall and they’re never raked up, it’s still sacred ground,” he says.

Should you want something a bit larger than a stone for a marker, something that will contribute to the earth’s well-being, you now have the option of purchasing a biodegradable “egg” and planting a tree above it.

Capsula Mundi was created by two Italian designers who wanted to give people a different approach to the way they think about death. Their project focuses on the biological cycle of transformation. According to their website, “In a culture far removed from nature, overloaded with objects for the needs of daily life and focused on youth, death is often dealt with as a taboo. We believe that this unavoidable passage, so meaningful, is not the end, but the beginning of a way back to nature. Inspired by these reflections, we decided to redesign the coffin – an object entirely left out of the design world – using ecological materials, and [non-religious] and universal life symbols, such as the egg and the tree.”

A small, egg-shaped pod made from an organic plastic holds ashes of the deceased. It’s buried like a seed in the earth, and a tree of the person’s choice is planted above it to serve as a memorial. The pods’ designers envision cemeteries allowing space for “sacred forests” that connect the sky to the earth, where family and friends continue to care for the tree and honor the departed.

Capsula Mundi for the body is still in the beginning stages, as that type of burial isn’t legal in all countries. The body of the deceased is placed in the fetal position inside a large pod and is buried just like the urn. For more information, go to http://www.capsulamundi.it/en.

A funeral with all the traditional accoutrements may make us feel better, but if we want to help the earth as well as respect our bodies as our souls’ temples, green is the way to go.

Nicole Walton is the news director at Public Radio 90 in Marquette and a freelance writer. She loves to hug trees

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.