Memorial Day is coming up. Many people still visit the graves of family and friends, maybe bring flowers. When a loved one dies, grieving prevents most of us from thinking about the environmental consequences of conventional funerals and burial. But some people are beginning to weigh the environmental costs of caskets, burial vaults and grave markers. Todd Melby reports on the green death movement:
Todd Melby and Diane Richard produced a documentary on green burial called “Death’s Footprint.” You can listen to it here .
Memorial Day is coming up. Many people still visit the graves of family and friends,
maybe bring flowers. When a loved one dies, grieving prevents most of us from
thinking about the environmental consequences of conventional funerals and burial.
But some people are beginning to weigh the environmental costs of caskets, burial
vaults and grave markers. Todd Melby reports on the green death movement:
Amy Weik works at a bank in downtown Chicago. She’s also a big-time
environmentalist. She bikes to work, doesn’t eat meat, recycles and she composts.
“This is my worm bin. It’s a rectangular cube, which I keep my worms in that eat
my scrap vegetables. Mmm, look at that. Yum. Scrap paper, food that went bad.”
The environment is such a big part of Weik’s life, she’s not only interested in
She wants to die green.
“We’re Americans. We are wasteful and we consume. We think that we are
entitled to everything. So I’m entitled to using up this massive plot of land for the
rest of eternity. That’s ridiculous thinking. You know what I mean?”
So 11 years ago — when she was only 23 — Weik wrote her own will and shared it
with her mother.
Weik: “I can read part of it.”
Melby: “Sure, what does it say?”
Weik: “Zero products or services from funeral homes are to be utilized.”
Instead, Weik prefers her body to be chemically cremated. But that new, high-
tech process isn’t widely available yet. Her second choice is to be composted with
“If all efforts have been exhausted, but these two options are not available, please
bury me in a green burial ground, location unimportant.”
That second option leaves Weik’s mother — Linda Williams — confused.
“The second was composed with worms? When I read it today, my first reaction
was, oh my Gosh, she composts with worms in her kitchen. I hope she doesn’t
expect me to put her in the box!” (Laughs)
Weik sees lots of unnecessary waste in conventional burial practices. Caskets
constructed from wood or metal are used for a short time and then go right into
the ground. Most graveyards require the casket be placed inside a concrete burial
vault to prevent leaking, but most eventually leak anyway. Grave markers are
often made of granite. And cemeteries are usually manicured to perfection using
fertilizer and riding lawn mowers.
Green burial advocates prefer biodegradable caskets — or just a shroud — no
burial vault, no grave markers and no landscaping. They prefer natural
Weik is hoping to live long enough to see a cemetery in her town go green.
So far, that’s not happened.
But one organization is working on it.
“I don’t think many people really want many aspects of conventional death care. I
think they think it’s legally required.”
That’s Joe Sehee. He’s head of the Green Burial Council.
“Most Americans do not know that you can have a funeral with a viewing without
embalming. Most don’t know that you can transport a body across state lines
without having to embalm it. Most don’t know that burial vaults can be avoided,
for example, or that you can go into the grave with a shroud or nothing at all.”
The council has been busy certifying all kinds of earth-friendly death products,
but has been slow to find graveyards willing to ban concrete burial vaults and
minimize traditional landscaping.
That leaves Amy Weik wondering if she’s going to have rely on the worms in her
compost bin to dispose of her body.
For The Environment Report, I’m Todd Melby.