Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beyond natural burial

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Who knew dying could be so complicated?

This week's feature story on the natural burial eco-trend took about two months to come together. Part of the extra time was needed to work through the unconventional aspects of collaborating on the story with R.C. Hooker, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and slated to be the first customer of western Montana's Natural Cemeteries.

But even more time was devoted to understanding just exactly how Montana's cemetery laws work — and how natural cemeteries operate across the country. Turns out, neither is very clear. A recent Ravalli Republic article covered some of the vagaries in Montana law in regards to burying people on private land. Henry Meyer touched on this in our story, but to be clear, Natural Cemeteries is a completely different deal. It's a nonprofit cemetery; not just private land with people buried on it.

More on state laws and licensed cemeteries can be found here.

Nationally, green burial is still a remarkably new idea. The Green Burial Councilis the only organization working to certify a cemetery's "green" standards. In Montana, only Bozeman's Dahl Funeral Home is an approved provider. And the Green Burial Council goes beyond just natural land cemeteries — you can find information on memorial reefs, low enviro impact embalming fluid and approved urns.

Internationally, natural burial is also catching on. The Natural Burial Association, based in Wales, has taken the lead and done some work in Canada.

As for traditional funeral homes and cemeteries, they're catching on to the idea. In February, the National Funeral Directors Association released a detailed description of green burial practices to its members. The Green Burial Council believes the industry realizes how popular this eco-trend could be, and fully expects traditional businesses to offer green options.

"They'd be making a mistake," says council founder and executive director Joe Sehee, "if they didn't start paying attention to what a growing majority of people want when they die."

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