Dying Green Isn’t Easy

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Dying is not popular, but you should get ready for it. You may spend your whole life being green, but then not have a green burial. Burials have quite an impact on the environment. The idea of green burials is just beginning. It is legal in Massachusetts, but it is up to the local Cemetery Commission. More about Chelmsford’s commission later.

Recently, I (Tom Amiro) attended a green burial for one of my wife’s friends. The friend and her husband were very concerned about sustainability, the environment, and climate change. So the husband wanted to bury her in a way compatible with their lifestyle. They lived in Harvard, which allows green burials in a specific section on a trial basis. Not having a specific green burial policy, the Harvard Cemetery went by Westford’s guidelines:

  • Shallower grave (3-4 feet deep)
  • No embalming
  • No grave liner (normally cement) or vault
  • Untreated pine box
  • Everything in box biodegradable (cotton pants, silk blouse, no jewelry, no glasses, no shoes unless leather soles)
  • No vase or decorations on grave that aren’t biodegradable
  • Headstone flush to ground (upright headstone requires cement base)

This was the first green burial I ever witnessed. It seemed quite nice, simple and natural.

For more information on after death care options that are more considerate of the environment and climate change, check out the following:

  • An excellent deep dialog, After Death Care and Carbon Recycling, by ECA Mass. See ecamass.org/category/deep-dialogs/.
  • Green Burial Massachusetts is a good resource
  • Legislation in the works filed by Natalie Higgins and Jack Patrick Lewis sponsors of H.2193 An Act Expanding After Death Care Options

One of the presenters of ECA’s deep dialog, Glen Ayers, a soil scientist, advocates for the greenest of possible burials, where the nutrients in your body enrich the soil. Whereas, what he terms the “Funeral-Industrial Complex” essentially produces cemeteries that are toxic waste dumps.

Cremations are becoming more popular. You might think they are better in taking up less land, but the combustion expends a lot of energy with high carbon emissions, Cremation also produces a variety of air pollutants—particulate matter, carbon monoxide, mercury and dioxin, among others—resulting partly from the substances burned and partly from the combustion process itself. It is an industrial solution to a natural problem that has natural solutions.

Recently, I attended a Cemetery Commission meeting in Chelmsford to see if my chances of getting a green burial in Chelmsford were good (remember it is legal in Massachusetts, but it is up to the local Cemetery Commission).

They had heard about green burials, but quickly pointed out that Pine Ridge was already allocated for traditional burials, and that a separate section would be needed. Why? Regular graves typically have concrete liners so they don’t cave in under the weight of heavy equipment. They’d only had one inquiry for something like a green burial. Other than Westford, they didn’t know of any neighboring towns doing it. Even Westford had some objections from neighboring condo residents. Not sure what their objection was. They questioned out loud how Mount Auburn cemetery handled it. Maybe the green graves were put along curbs to avoid the problem with heavy equipment.

At least I brought up the subject with Chelmsford’s Cemetery Commission and gave them some references to learn more about it. Hopefully, in the future greener burials will become much more common. Some of the changes we make to combat climate change and sustainability have to go all the way to the grave and beyond!

There will be strong resistance. Have you seen all the ads for life insurance targeting elderly people to cover the high cost of today’s funerals and burials? The funeral industry will fight green burials, like the fossil fuel industry fights renewables and EVs, because they are much less expensive than traditional burials. Don’t buy insurance to cover the exorbitant costs foisted on us by the funeral industrial complex. Their prices are inflated by all their unnecessary practices, which are actually bad for the environment and less sustainable. Just opt to die green as you lived green!

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