Remaining eco-friendly after death

By: Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 30, 2015

 Everything in The Preserve is biodegradable.

Everything in The Preserve is biodegradable.

Photo by Deb Jacques


METRO DETROIT — In a time of escalating environmental consciousness, folks can rest easy knowing they can reduce their carbon footprint when choosing their final resting place.

Russ Burns, director of All Saints Cemetery in Waterford, explained that the prevalence of green funerals and burials has been gaining momentum in the United States in the last 10-15 years.

The concept, however, is certainly nothing new, he said.

“It’s really the way burials have been done for eons,” Burns said, explaining that the traditional funeral and burial proceedings we know today are relatively new — having begun with the Civil War as a way for soldiers to be preserved until their bodies could be delivered home.

William Sullivan & Sons Funeral Directors co-owner Michael Lope said that green options for funeral proceedings are vast and can actually resemble traditional funeral preparations.

In a green funeral, body preservation may include all-natural, eco-friendly embalming fluid so families can hold visitations and services in a home or church. For those looking to forego embalming fluid entirely, bodies may be preserved for a few days with dry ice.

Another option, Lope said, is to immediately bury the body and hold a memorial service after.

As far as how the body will be laid to rest, green options include wrapping the body in a shroud or placing it in a woven basket or casket made of reclaimed or easily replenished wood, like bamboo.

Caskets cannot include metal or lacquer, and all interior fabrics must be biodegradable, like cottons and linens. Biodegradable urns for cremated remains are also acceptable.

The remains may not be embalmed with formaldehyde. And while prosthetic limbs are allowed, pacemakers must be removed prior to burial. This all-natural process allows the body to be returned to the earth, Burns said.

“People are organic. We won’t contaminate the water or the soil. We’ll be feeding the earth,” Burns said. “It’s a way to lessen man’s intrusion. It’s a last act to be environmentally conscious — earth to earth, ashes to ashes.”

Burns estimated that there are 300 green cemeteries in the U.S., with roughly half a dozen in Michigan.

Located on the grounds of All Saints Cemetery is The Preserve, which serves as the only cemetery in southeastern Michigan certified by the Green Burial Council — an environmental certification organization that sets the standard for green burial in North America.

Since its opening in 2010, The Preserve has had 36 green burials.

The grounds at The Preserve are mowed once every fall to minimize and control invasive plant, animal and insect species, Burns said. Naturalists and local land conservancy groups help in maintaining the environmental integrity of the burial grounds.

As far as the cost of a green funeral, it can vary — from simple and inexpensive to formal and comparable in cost to a traditional funeral.

At The Preserve, sites are slightly more expensive than traditional plots, but, Burns said, overall many of the costs associated with a funeral are eliminated, like embalming, grave lining and headstones.

Lope said it’s important to remember that with funerals, there’s no right or wrong.

“We like letting families know there’s no right or wrong — it’s just important to make people aware that there are options,” Lope said.

“If you’re green in life, it’s important to be green in death. A life lived green deserves a green celebration. We want people to know that they can have most of the ceremonies and practices they expect at the end of life and still respect the earth and our environment.”

On Oct. 6, a free informative program on green funerals and burials will be held at 6 p.m. at the Birmingham Community House, 380 S. Bates St. in Birmingham. For more information, call (248) 541-7000.