Is Cremation Green?

Cremation is nothing new, it is one of the earliest methods used to dispose of deceased human beings to prevent the spread of disease and illness, but has come a long way since the log pyres of yesteryear. Whether cremation is a green burial practice or not is still open for debate, even the new bio cremation has not achieved wide spread acceptance as of yet.

Cremation Chamber

A Modern Cremation Chamber

While cremation rates are on the rise in the United States, most likely given the cost savings when compared to traditional burial methods, there are some that are questioning the environmental impacts of the flame based cremation process. This concern has led to a push for more environmentally friendly methods of cremation and the commercial availability of alkaline hydrolysis.

The cremation method most of us are accustomed to is traditional flame based cremation. During this method, the body is placed in a cremation chamber, also known as a retort. The combination of flame, heat and air effectively reduces the human body down to ash and bone. This remaining ash and bone is then crushed to form a coarse “dust” which is what is then placed into an urn or other suitable container. Even with today’s high efficiency, computer controlled retorts, flame based cremation has come under increasing scrutiny as more crematoriums are popping up in residential areas. The concerns being what emissions are being released into the atmosphere during this process, especially when considering greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and the use of mercury based dental fillings years ago, as well as the volume of natural resources that are consumed to fuel the operation.

There are those times in which cremation is chosen over traditional burial methods because some feel it is a “greener” alternative when compared to the land use, the chemicals used during the embalming process and the resources used during the manufacture of caskets and burial vaults. Some however, are now questioning whether the original benefits thought to have been provided by traditional flame based cremation versus traditional burial are being negated by the resources used and emissions created by the very process. In fact, a number of green burial cemeteries are refusing to allow the burial of cremated remains because it does not fit the environmentally sustaining model the green burial purists are trying to promote.

One answer to these concerns may be bio-cremation. Bio-cremation, also known as Resomation or alkaline hydrolysis is relatively new to the commercial cremation market. Alkaline hydrolysis uses a steel pressure chamber rather than a retort. The body, along with water and potassium hydroxide are placed into the chamber, which is then heated to over 350 degrees and pressurized to prevent boiling. This combination of high heat and pressure, along with the highly alkaline potassium hydroxide effectively reduces the human body to bones. The water used during the process contains the salts, amino acids and fats, essentially the remaining elements of the human body. According to the supporters and equipment manufacturers of this bio-cremation process, this liquid can then be safely flushed down the drain. At this point you will have to decide if this cremation process is an acceptable alternative for you or not. Thus far the process is only legal in a handful of states and there is still concern with the safety of the liquid that is discharged during the process.

After the alkaline hydrolysis process is completed, the remaining bones are crushed into essentially the same dust as the flame based process, at which time the remains are placed in an urn or other suitable container.

Both flame based cremation and alkaline hydrolysis essentially mimic the natural burial process, reducing a human body to bones. One process uses heat and flame, one process uses heat, water and a highly alkaline substance and one uses soil, the elements and micro-organisms, each effectively coming to the same result all be it with varying amounts of time. I will let it up to you to decide what is “green” and what is not.

Alkaline Hydrolysis

Quote of the Day!

“Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.”
Ayn Rand

Quote of the Day!

“Here lies my wife
So let her lie.
Now she’s at rest,
And so am I.”

Quote of the Day!

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Cherokee Expression

Quote of the Day!

“She lived with her husband for 50 years, And died in the confident hope of a better life.”

Quote of the Day!

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
Charles Darwin

What is a Burial Vault

 Grave LinerCemetery Burial Vaults: History, Purpose and Explanation

 

When someone is buried, the family is often required to purchase a burial vault or liner. Unfortunately, the family is often unfamiliar with these terms, which can be a huge disadvantage when trying to make an informed buying decision. The information provided here will allow you to select the burial vault or liner most appropriate for your needs.

 

A Brief History of the Cemetery Burial Vaults

 

Burial vaults were a solution to an age old problem of the sinking or collapsing of the earth, underneath the weight of equipment, vehicles or even persons, due to the loss of the integrity of the casket while buried underground.

Early attempts at providing some sort of protection from the graves collapsing included lining the grave walls with stone or brick and placing a piece of slate on top. Later, vaults were designed and manufactured specifically for this purpose.

You will find that different styles of vaults were used at different periods of time and in different geographical areas. In general however, many U.S. cemeteries began using six piece or sectional vaults somewhere around the early 1900’s. These six piece vaults were initially cut from slate and assembled in the open grave. They consisted of a bottom, four sides and a top; hence the name “six piece”. Some variations had notches cut in the end pieces to keep the sides from pushing in, but the surrounding earth provided the majority of the stability for their design. Later, these slate vaults were replaced with six piece concrete vaults.

During the 1920’s and 1930”s, 2 piece concrete vaults were beginning to emerge and by the late 1930’s, the six piece vault had to settle for almost a niche use. The two piece vault may have required the use of specialized equipment, but the installation time was substantially reduced and could now be completed by one person. I am aware of some sectional vaults still being used today however.

To this day, the possibility of the earth collapsing from a burial made years ago without a vault still remains and reminds us of the safety provided by such a product.

 

Are Cemetery Burial Vaults Required

 

Sealed Vault

 

While there is generally no state law that requires the use of cemetery burial vaults or cemetery liners, most cemeteries, require the use of a concrete vault or liner for all traditional interments, mainly for the reasons listed above. You will find cemeteries across the U.S. that have no such requirement, and make their use optional.

Many cemeteries today may also require the use of a burial vault for the interment of cremated remains, since the same principles hold true. While not as large as a traditional interment, the collapse of a grave used for cremation can have maintenance and safety concerns as well. The fact that there are numerous cremation interments in a relatively small area increases the impact on safety and appearance if vaults were not used.

Often times the cremated remains of a loved one will be buried in a shared grave, and may have to be removed for the burial of another family member and reburied with them. The use of a cremation burial vault insures the integrity of the remains during this process.

 

Why is a Cemetery Burial Vault Required?

 

When a burial is made and covered with dirt, there are certain loads placed upon the burial. A burial vault is specifically designed to withstand these loads, where as a casket alone is not. These loads are generally referred to as static loads, dynamic loads and impact loads.

 

A static load is the normal weight load that is placed on the burial vault by the weight of the ground that is above it. With today’s burial practices, the static load on a burial can exceed 4000 pounds or two tons.

A dynamic load is a load that varies in intensity. A dynamic load can be caused by cemetery equipment, such as tractors and backhoes, passing over the grave. Today’s larger cemetery equipment can weight in excess of 25,000 pounds.

An impact load can be caused by the use of a tamper during the backfilling operation, and can deliver a force that can exceed that of a static or dynamic load. Although this normally occurs for only a brief period of time, this type of load can be concentrated on a very small area.

 

Types of Burial Vaults

 

Cemetery burial vaults can be made from concrete, plastic and even metals. They can be designed as a box with a lid on top, or as a flat bottom with a dome shaped top that seals at the bottom. Each manufacturer will extoll the virtues of their design, but it has been my experience that most, quality manufactured vaults, will provide adequate protection against the loads that a burial will encounter.

Concrete vaults are generally provided in three different categories. The liner is a simple concrete box, which has no seal, and may or may not contain holes in the bottom in order to allow any water that may accumulate, to drain out. Then there is a sealed vault, which is a concrete box that may be painted or coated for aesthetics and to provide some water resistance. The sealed vault will also have a butyl type gasket that provides a water resistant seal between the lid and the box. Finally you have the lined and sealed vault. These concrete vaults contain the same properties as the sealed vault but add an additional inner and sometimes outer liner that is said to offer the greatest amount of protection. These inner and outer liners can be made from plastics, or metals and often time are very ornate adding to the visual appeal. Plastic and metal vaults offer similar level of protection within their product lines as well. It should be noted that the concrete vault industry makes a distinction between Burial Vaults and Burial Liners or Boxes. They only consider “vaults” as those in the lined and sealed category, everything else would be considered a grave liner, grave box or outer burial container.

 

Warranty

Lined Vault

 

Yep, you read it correctly. Some manufacturers will even offer a warranty with their burial vaults. I have read some of these warranties and they limit their liability to providing you with a replacement vault should there be any failure of the vault. Generally, the warranty is against defects in manufacturing and the intrusion of water, with some warranties extending out 80 years or more. You will have to decide for yourself if a warranty plays a role in your buying decision, as the only way you will be able to judge the quality of the vault would be by disinterment. Not something that is done on a regular basis.

 

Concrete vaults not only offer a measure of safety, they may also help to retain the integrity of the casket, as well as keep the earth from settling which assists the cemetery in its maintenance operations and helps to maintain a lasting beauty that would not be possible otherwise. While burial of the body or cremated remains should always be considered permanent, there are occasions when disinterment becomes necessary. The use of a burial vault when the interment was made can help ensure dignity during this process. Cemeteries generally do not require the use of a burial vault simply to sell you something, in fact there are many cemeteries that require the use of a burial vault and do not sell them at all. Burial vaults are required; to protect the integrity of the casket, for the safety of the visitor and the safety of cemetery personnel and equipment.

Hopefully you have gleaned enough information to educate yourself and be confidant in making an informed buying decision.

 

Funeral procession for Pennsylvania man stops at Burger King drive-thru

Published January 26, 2013 Associated Press

bkfuneral12.jpg

Read the full Story Here

A Proper Funeral Tribute

I just had to post this one. I love to read about funerals like this. No matter what your religious belief may be (if any), or the type of service that you have for someones funeral, to do something like this ads such a personal touch to celebrating the life of a loved one. And I for one feel it deserves attention. While I personally believe there should be a certain degree of decorum and respect at a funeral (can you say “Best Funeral Ever”), this sort of tribute is a fitting gesture for anyones passing.

Green Burial, What is it?

Green Burial 2

For those of you who may be taking the time to think about your burial arrangements and research your options, you may have heard of “green burial”, and some of you may even like the idea. Please allow me (that means keep reading!) to provide you with some basic introductory information, hopefully allowing you to make an informed decision.

 

What is Green Burial?

 

If you were to take a moment to think about green burial, it really is not something new. Green burial is more of a return to a simpler, more practical time. Green burial is nothing more than another name for “burial”, but the “burial” we are referring to here is the one that was common place years ago. Today however, green burial takes on a new meaning.

Green burial refers to methods and practices of burial that minimize the environmental impact necessitated by burial of a deceased human being. Now you may be asking yourself what environmental impact? There are several schools of thought on this subject which I believe are best addressed in a separate post (Stay tuned!), but on some basic level there are environmental impacts with the burial of humans as well as the development of cemeteries. These common environmental impacts are no different than the development of a university, mall or residential development. If you take your modern cemetery, some of the impacts to be considered are; the disturbance of soil when a new cemetery is constructed, the removal of natural vegetation, and the installation of impervious surfaces. All of these impacts are normally taken into consideration during the beginning stage of development and are usually regulated by the municipality in which the cemetery is located. None the less, many people do not want their departure from this life to contribute in any way to this sort of impact. Another consideration would be the additional environmental impacts that have more recently become the topic of discussion. They would be such things as; the use of embalming chemicals and their possible effect on the environment, or the use of large quantities of material and natural resources in the production and transportation of burial goods, such as caskets and burial vaults. These as well as other concerns are subjective and unique to each individual, but green burial gives those of us that may have these concerns options and choice, which allow us to do our small part.

 

Shades of Green Burial

 

While green burial has yet to gain wide spread acceptance across the U.S., there have been a number of new “green burial” cemeteries or sections in traditional burial cemeteries, which have recently opened. A Google search will provide you with all the results you need to find one. What one will find however, is that not all green burial locations are the same. There are several of what I call “shades of green”, these “shade of green” are certainly not any sort of industry terms or accepted guidelines, rather they are simply a general explanation, in my own words, of what one may find when researching green burial cemeteries. Let me explain.

 

Dark Green

 

Let’s take a look at the darkest shade of green. This “dark green” would include cemeteries that are strictly green burial cemeteries, unlike a traditional burial cemetery that has added a green burial section. These cemeteries would most likely appear as open pastures or even wooded forests and may provide almost no evidence that a cemetery even exists within its realm. Burial would most likely take place as the most rustic of forms; the digging of the grave, the lowering of the body and the back filling of the grave would all most likely be done by hand and may even require the family’s assistance. While this may be the darkest green of the options, one thing to remember is there will probably be few ancillary services. Vehicle traffic anywhere close to the burial location may be prohibited, as well as direct memorialization or marking of the grave in any way. Snow removal, assistance from office or maintenance staff, or any sort of customer service will probably be at a minimum. For some of you, I’m sure this is exactly how you would want it, but for some it may be a bit too far removed.

 

Medium Green

 

Here we could be looking at a cemetery that is completely set aside for green burial but their policies are not quite a rustic as the dark green. While the use of embalming chemicals would most likely still be prohibited as would the use of any sort of burial vault, this cemetery may begin to look more like a traditional burial cemetery or memorial garden. You may find some sort of headstone or memorial, be it natural stone or manufactured monument and possibly some manicured turf areas dispersed throughout a more natural setting. The graves may be dug by hand or through the use of modern equipment and cemetery staff will most likely be on hand to complete most of the work, and provide for some sort of continued customer service. This shade of green could also be provided through a separate section in a traditional burial cemetery, one which upholds a mix of dark and medium green practices and methods as a standard for burial.

 

Light Green

 

Light green would most likely be a separate green burial section in an existing cemetery or even green burials disbursed throughout a traditional burial section, with no signs of demarcation separating the two. Burial methods and practices may be much more relaxed. Graves would most likely be dug with modern equipment, manufactured monuments would probably be the norm, the use of embalming chemicals may be accepted and some sort of vault may be used. One common method to employ the use of a burial vault is to simply invert a traditional concrete burial vault over the top of a casketed burial, which would still allow the body to come in contact with the ground and return to the earth in a more natural manner. Light green may also preclude the direct family involvement with the burial process.

 

Green Burial Cemeteries

 

Any green burial cemetery or traditional burial cemetery with a green burial section may have some or all of the attributes I have mentioned, as well as a mix of them. If your shade is one that would lead you to choose an option in which you would not want to be buried amongst the traditional burials, rather, enjoined only to those that have chosen the same ideals as you, I would add one comment. In doing your research, make sure the cemetery has written into its contract, bylaws or better yet a deed restriction, mandating the section you have chosen for your burial will remain a green burial section for all time. If you have any concerns with the validity of their statements, have an attorney review the wording. This way, after you have done your part to better our environment, the cemetery cannot change the designation of the section after you have already made your purchase. (Or worse yet, after you have used it!)

 

Green Burial Resources

 

There are numerous resources available to the consumer looking for in-depth information on green burial. As mentioned before, a simple Google search will yield results ranging from green burial cemeteries to green burial organizations. You will find a few organizations whose purpose is to provide some sort of standard or accreditation pertaining to how green burial should or should not be carried out. While I applaud their efforts and see nothing wrong with their goals, these are self-proclaimed organizations that have created their own set of ideals. While these sites are certainly full of useful information and their intentions appear to be centered on consumer protection, I would like to add a word of caution. The fact that a cemetery may or may not be listed or endorsed by any of these organizations, should not, by itself, influence your decision on whether or not that particular cemetery is a good fit for you or your family. I firmly believe the consumer should educate themselves as much as possible and make a decision, no matter what the topic, based on their knowledge and personal situation.

 

Green Burail 1

More on Green Burial

 

I ask you to stay tuned for more on green burial. This post was a bit of a primer to the topic of green burial, but there is more to talk about. Is cremation really green? Green burial vs. traditional burial and more.

 

Quote of the Day!

“What we keep in memory is ours unchanged forever.”