A range of burial options are considered green. People can forgo embalming or request nontoxic embalming fluid; buy a biodegradable container made from sustainable willow, wicker or bamboo, or even order up a simple shroud. The burial can take place on “natural burial grounds” where people are buried without markers on protected wildlife preserves. There’s even a company that incorporates cremated remains into a “reef ball” that provides habitat for fish.
Carol Fox of Mount Airy, Md., chose a green burial at sea for her son, Jamie, who died at age 21 in 2002.
Jamie was studying environmental/marine science and philosophy at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore when he drowned while boogie boarding in the ocean. Fox says he loved scuba diving and was the type of person who always picked up trash while walking on the beach. She was searching online for a dolphin-themed urn for her son’s cremated remains when she stumbled upon the Web site of the Decatur, Ga.-based Eternal Reefs.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is just what Jamie would have wanted,’ ” she says.
In 2004, Fox says, Jamie became the first person buried in a reef ball in Maryland, in the waters off Ocean City, “where he lived and loved.”
To make a reef ball, cremated remains are mixed with concrete and shaped into a basketball-size “pearl” that weighs about 60 pounds. The pearl is affixed to a beehive-shaped concrete reef that weighs 650 to 4,000 pounds. Memorial reefs, which cost from $3,995 to $6,995, can accommodate up to four members of a family; there is also a community-reef option, with pearls from multiple families, that cost $2,995 per person. Eternal Reef has installed about 60 reef balls in the Chesapeake Bay, including seven that were placed there in a ceremony in April, according to George Frankel, the chief executive of Eternal Reefs.
Fox plans to scuba-dive to her son’s grave in July, when he would have turned 30. She hopes that it’s teeming with fish and plant life.
“This is giving back and helping rebuild the reef,” Fox says. “It’s something you can see.”
Dust to dust
Eighty percent of people interested in green burials were originally planning a cremation, according to the Green Burial Council’s Sehee. Cremation releases pollutants into the air such as nitrous oxide and mercury from dental fillings, though the threat from these toxins has been “a little exaggerated,” he says. Crematories are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nearly 40 percent of deceased people in the United States are cremated. The popularity of the practice varies greatly from state to state, from 74 percent of those who die in Nevada to 12 percent in Mississippi, according to the Cremation Association of North America.