Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The high cost of decomposing

  I still prefer to be barbecued. Or broiled —  however it is that my remains can be reduced to the kind of dusty nutrient that makes fields and ravines grow greener.

  If it can't be the Viking way — by floating pyre — let my bones retire the cremation way.

  That doesn't mean that folks promoting a new, back-to-nature form of burial haven't got my attention and admiration. The same goes for local governments that are making it possible. For some unfathomable reason, their numbers are few.

   Fort Collins, Colo., the new city of my residence, is one of the nation's first to facilitate so-called green funerals — burials in which the body truly is committed to the soil with or without preservatives, and in a container that will decompose along with it. Hear, hear. Let a thousand flowers bloom with this approach to dying and decomposition.

    Fort Collins has set aside a one-acre section of a city cemetery for people to be buried without a vault or embalming. Burial could take place in a shroud or a cardboard container. The city director of cemeteries told the Denver Post, "We're basically going back to the 1860s." It's about time.

   The section in the Roselawn Cemetery won't be treated like the rest. It will be seeded with wildflowers and left to act like fertile ground, as opposed to compartments with sod roofs. Plots will have unobtrusively small granite markers.

   Burial will be allowed in nothing more than, say, a favorite robe or a Broncos stadium blanket, if a grieving clan can bear to part with it.

   People who promote green funerals do so not only because it suits their eco-sense. They also do it because the approach is dramatically less expensive than standard practice. And let's face it. Per benefit to all concerned, living or dead, few services are less cost-effective than the prototypical American funeral. I mean, compare your average mortal sendoff to your average tailgate party. On which would you want to plunk down good inheritance?

    However, imagine: a funeral that doesn't require a coffin, average price: $2,000 (with copper and brass caskets,  $10,000 and beyond.) Imagine not needing a crypt and traditional cemetery plot. Embalming? Optional, of course. (Fort Collins didn't require it anyway.)      

    The city has yet to arrive at a price for the plots to be used.

    Admittedly, a "green" cemetery would take a little more ongoing maintenance than the traditional cemetery, where all the work is done at the front end. A cemetery without vaults naturally has settling at each plot, so staff will have to bolster each of them.

     As for other concerns about being buried the way our forefathers were laid to rest, much of it is bunk.

     The reason for burying people the way we do it is to maintain a nice, tidy surface at the cemetery near you.

     Creeping water tables? A grave would have to be quite deep to have such a thing come into play. Fort Collins' new section will have the bodies under two feet of soil.

     Microbial concerns? Ashes to ashes, nutrients to nutrients. Ultimately, we're all compost. Let Mother Earth welcome us back.

     No, I haven't convinced myself to forgo the furnace. I like the idea of what's left of me wafting in an alpine breeze from a precipitous rock formation.

   But in the contingency that I live so long that mankind runs out of kindling or fossil fuels to light 'er up: Make it cardboard and a green burial for me, dear inheritors.

   John Young writes for Cox Newspapers.

1 comment:

Bradley Ray said...

I have to admit that the more I read about green burial, the more it intrigues me. Plus I've always been turned off by the idea of embalming. I like the idea of a park-like setting, more natural. I'm wondering how creative one could become with the cardboard casket? Thanks for your post, I hope you don't mind I quoted a portion and linked back.