Green burial pays its respects
Reno has Nevada’s only funeral home certified by the Green Burial Council
In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman wrote, “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love. If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”
To decompose and return to the earth is natural for all living things. Yet, the modern—which is to say since the late 1860s, when formaldehyde was discovered—method of burying the dead is to embalm the bodies with toxic, preserving and disinfecting chemicals so the body can be viewed, placed in a metal coffin and lowered into a concrete vaulted cemetery plot. Add to that lavish flower displays and permanent monuments.
While many like to feel their loved one is protected in an enclosed vault where they can always visit them, others are looking for ways that complement natural cycles.
With natural burial, the body is free of embalming chemicals and goes back to the earth in a biodegradable coffin. A memorial tree may be planted beside or over the grave rather than a monument, and the “green cemetery” can serve as both a living memorial and a protected wildlife preserve.
There are no green cemeteries in Nevada. In fact, there are only six certified green cemeteries in the United States. And Reno cemeteries require a concrete vault or polyurethane liner, so the body has no chance of getting “back to the earth,” which is a comfort to some and a frustration for others.
But that doesn’t mean greener burial practices aren’t available. Last August, Northern Nevada Memorial Cremation & Burial Society in Reno became the first in Nevada to be certified by the Green Burial Council. While they continue to offer everything involved with conventional funeral services, they also carry biodegradable coffins made from natural wood (no nails, no chemical stains), sea grass or wicker. They can perform an “immediate burial,” for which embalming—and the chemicals involved with it—is unnecessary.
Northern Nevada Memorial funeral arranger Tim Fanelli says green burials are usually cheaper than conventional ones.
“We can see where it allows for environmentally friendly funerals but will also allow people to save money,” says Fanelli of green burials.
For example, a biodegradable casket begins around $1,900 compared to $2,800 for a bronze or copper casket. Cremation, which Fanelli considers the greenest funeral service, is also the cheapest. And Northern Nevada Memorial carries a variety of biodegradable containers and urns for the ashes, from recycled paper to hemp.
Nearly any funeral home can accommodate a wish for an immediate burial with no embalming, and many carry at least some biodegradable option. There just aren’t any others certified with the Green Burial Council here. The certification means the funeral home carries enough eco-friendly options to be considered green and that it adheres to GBC standards.
Fanelli suggests that when considering the impact of burial, take into account the sort of funeral service. If you want to be more eco-friendly, think less extravagantly. “Flowers are green, but when you put them in vases and containers made of Styrofoam to arrange them, then they’re not green,” he says. “If you buy a dozen roses and lay them on a casket, you’re fine.”