A funeral party lowers the shroud-clad body of a departed friend into the ground at a cemetery in Gainesville, Fla. Biodegradable materials like cotton, cardboard and wicker are commonly used to enclose the body in green burials. Photo by Melissa Hill.

May 18, 2020

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark…
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Once our ship has sailed, many of us intend for our bodies either to be cremated into ash or buried conventionally - that is, in a sturdy casket placed within a concrete grave liner or possibly sealed tightly inside a metal vault, and covered with a heap of fresh earth - maybe after being embalmed to impede decay. There’s something to be said for looking fabulous for eternity.

But a North Texas cemetery owner believes there is a growing market for those whose last wishes are to carry their ecological devotion to the grave.

“You can read statistics all day long about the impact of modern burial practices on our environment,” said Stephen Harris, the owner of Mountain Creek Cemetery, which opened in Grand Prairie last year. “The volume of embalming fluids, tons of concrete, steel, copper and other metals - also, the limited land available for new cemeteries in and around cities.” 

The five-acre hybrid cemetery, which also offers traditional burials, is one of only two in Texas that the Green Burial Council has certified for green burials. The other is Our Lady of the Rosary in Georgetown. (A number of DFW-area funeral homes promote green burials online but are not GBC-certified. Some are affiliated with AGreenerFuneral.org, a website established to educate the public about funerals that “leave a lighter footprint on this earth.”)

Each year, cemeteries across the U.S. bury 30 million board feet of hardwood caskets, more than 90,000 tons of steel caskets, 14,000 tons of steel vaults, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze caskets, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete vaults and 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid.

Wicker casketWicker caskets like this one at a Nashville, Tenn., memorial ceremony are among several container types allowed for green burials. Photo courtesy of Larkspur Conservation Cemetery at Taylor Hollow.

A single cremation, meanwhile, can vent 880 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – a carbon footprint comparable to a 500-mile road trip in the family car.

Green burials, also known as natural burials, allow the body to decompose naturally and return to the earth. The landscape is disturbed as little as possible, only flat markers are allowed, the body is enclosed in a biodegradable container and there is no chemical embalming. The process also is one of the least expensive paths to follow to your final rest.

Green burials “are a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat,” according to the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit that advocates for environmentally sustainable death care.

Each year, cemeteries across the U.S. bury 30 million board feet of hardwood caskets, more than 90,000 tons of steel caskets, 14,000 tons of steel vaults, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze caskets, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete vaults and 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid.

Green burial at Mountain Creek Cemetery Guests linger following the burial of a loved one at Mountain Creek Cemetery in Grand Prairie. Mountain Creek is one of only two cemeteries in Texas that the Green Burial Council has certified to conduct green burials. Photo courtesy of Mountain Creek Cemetery. 

The GBC states that its green-burial certification requires providers to forgo “toxic embalming” and vaults; use biodegradable containers, caskets, shrouds or urns; halt the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers; encourage sustainable management practices and submit to periodic compliance monitoring.

“Green is definitely better for the environment. It is more cost-friendly. It is as natural as we can hope to achieve in today’s world,” Harris said.

End-of-life decisions are deeply personal, and Harris expresses respect for those who choose the more familiar methods of burial or cremation. 

“Some people prefer the idea of protecting the body from decomposition for as long as possible. People sometimes prefer burial in a mausoleum because of claustrophobia. Some [prefer] cremation because of cost.” 

“I see green burials as a bridge between a modern, expensive burial and cremation. You don’t embalm, or you embalm using a natural method,” Harris said. “You don’t use steel caskets, with concrete or other man-made materials for vaults. A body can be buried in something as simple as a shroud, a wooden casket or bamboo, etc. All materials are biodegradable. All these things can greatly reduce the cost of the process.”

Mountain Creek Cemetery in Grand Prairie

Mountain Creek Cemetery's bucolic ambience contrasts with the bustle of the surrounding Metroplex.  Photo courtesy of Mountain Creek Cemetery.

He believes the eco-friendliness of green burials ultimately will resonate with a large segment of the North Texas population. Before that happens, however, the word needs to get out. 

“Green burials will come of age here in the DFW area as soon as people know and understand the impact and availability of it,” Harris said. “I think that making everyone aware that it is here, and that we are here, is just the start of a new way to celebrate life in the 21st century.”


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