Paul Diamant reports on Eco-Funerals in New Jersey for the Star Ledger:LINK
"[a natural burial is] what Paul Magalhaes Sr. wanted, so last October, when the 78-year-old North Bergen man was considering personal burial plans, he settled on a new "eco option" at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah. After his death last month, Magalhaes was interred in Maryrest — the first person to be "ecologically buried" in one of the country’s first Catholic cemeteries with an environmentally sensitive section.'"
Diamant's story was stimulated when the Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey, escalated its plans for a natural burial site in its existing cemetery. Until Mr. Magalhaes' passing, the plans were on the drawing board, but funeral director Bob Prout knew of the family's wishes and encouraged Maryrest's director Andrew Schafer to step up the pace.
He did, and now the Archdiocese of Newark has natural burial options for all its families...
In a world that is increasingly renewable, recyclable and energy-efficient, many Americans already spend much of their lives in an eco-friendly environment.
Now they can spend eternity there, too.
That’s what Paul Magalhaes Sr. wanted, so last October, when the 78-year-old North Bergen man was considering personal burial plans, he settled on a new "eco option" at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah. After his death last month, Magalhaes was interred in Maryrest — the first person to be "ecologically buried" in one of the country’s first Catholic cemeteries with an environmentally sensitive section.
"My father always loved nature," said Paul Magalhaes Jr. "He was the kind of guy, if there was an ant crawling, he’d say, ‘Don’t step on it, it has a purpose.’"
People in the funeral industry say more Christians are embracing the idea of burial in cemeteries striving to contain their own carbon footprint.
This new movement has parallels to traditional Jewish and Muslim burial customs and is broadly in keeping with Catholic teachings — as well as recent papal pronouncements — on the importance of environmental protection.
At Maryrest, which is run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, only certain types of caskets, embalming and grave markers are permitted in the new eco-section, the goal being to limit environmental damage.
Nationwide, dozens of cemeteries advertise green practices as a way of countering modern burial practices that many now see as ecologically unsustainable. Newark Archdiocese officials say they expect Baby Boomers to increasingly opt for it.
"The church is trying to be green," said Andrew Schafer, executive director of Catholic cemeteries for the Newark Archdiocese.
"Being a Boomer myself," he added, "we grew up going to recycling centers on weekends, we learned in grammar school about protecting the environment, and Earth Day came about as we were kids. We are a generation of people who have been constantly exposed to protecting the world and the environment. ... As this group ages, I think they will seriously consider this."
Typical practices in sections of these cemeteries include:
- • Bans on chemical embalming, to leave the body in a natural state, and out of concern that chemicals contaminate groundwater.
- • Prohibiting coffins of metal or rare woods in favor of coffins of more easily reproduceable woods or wicker that decompose relatively quickly; or burying bodies in just a shroud.
- • Forbidding tall, cut headstones, which require costly fueled transport, in favor of smaller markers.
- • Banning herbicides and pesticides for lawn care; and banning mowers, to save fuel.
- • Banning the concrete vaults that are used to hold coffins at most American cemeteries.
"This is the way it was 100 years ago," said Robert Prout, a funeral director in Verona who promotes green burial techniques at funeral directors’ conferences around the country. "This is the way it was for thousands of years. Wrapping a body in a shroud without a casket is still done in many parts of the world."
SHADES OF GREEN
There are probably a few dozen cemeteries in the United States that allow only green burials, and dozens more have specified green sections like the one at Maryrest, according to industry observers.
South Jersey has at least two besides Maryrest: Steelmantown Cemetery in Steelmantown, Cape May County, which is entirely devoted to green burials, and Union Cemetery in Mays Landing, Atlantic County, which has a section.
The term "green burial" is hard to define and has been criticized as overly vague. A national Green Burial Council, established in 2005, certifies Steelmantown Cemetery and 19 others as meeting its green standards. Other cemeteries advertising natural burials — including Union Cemetery — have not sought certification. Maryrest officials may explore the option, Schafer said.
The term can include cremations, when ashes are poured into a hole in the ground or buried in a biodegradable urn. About 30 percent of Americans are cremated, a figure that has risen in recent decades.
Concerns over the release of carbon dioxide and mercury into the air have somewhat damaged cremation’s green image among many environmentalists, but high-tech air-filtration systems for crematories are expected to become more common.
The section at Maryrest will have several "shades" of green, Schafer said. The darkest shade, for the real purists, will allow neither caskets nor embalming, not even embalming with natural products. People will be buried there in shrouds. The middle shade will allow the wood or wicker caskets but no embalming. The lightest shade, expected to be the most populated, will allow wood or wicker caskets and embalming with natural products.
The green section, consisting of two acres of sloping grassland, is a small part of the 70-acre cemetery, which has 27,000 other bodies buried under manicured lawns. The green section, when completed later this year, will have a more natural look, with plantings, shrubs and wildflowers meant to attract birds and butterflies.
Magalhaes Sr. was buried Jan. 11 in a wicker casket after being embalmed in natural products.
"Our thought was a regular cemetery is kind of sad," his son said. "You go there and they’re all the same. You have tombstones lined up next to each other like soldiers. You go in and people are grieving. ... We thought this was a much more happier setting. Instead of going there and grieving, we thought we’d go there and think of the better times."
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