Dust to dust: green burials

An interfaith gathering in the United Kingdom on May 15 helped dedicate the country’s largest woodland burial park.

Green burials — ranging from simply foregoing embalming to home funerals, woodland burials and sea reef memorials — are becoming increasingly popular, with good reason. To start with, embalming uses chemicals that pose health risks to morticians and which can seep into ground water, and the casket industry uses a tremendous amount of lumber, copper and other metals every year.

Much as many of us struggle against it, death is a natural part of life. No amount of body preservation, concrete grave liners or casket grandeur can change that. So why not release the remains to the natural process of decay?

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as the text of the Book of Common Prayer goes.

I’m heartened to read about the Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Humanists and Pagans who gathered together to dedicate Chilterns Woodland Burial Park, and to honor death as a very natural — and necessary — part of life. We have similar properties here in the U.S. in California, Texas, South Carolina, Washington, New York and Florida, with additional sites planned in other states. It will likely be several generations yet before green burials are more mainstream, but at least we’re headed in the right direction.


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