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

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.



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.


What Are My Burial Options?

Niche, Grave, Columbarium, Mausoleum, Burial versus Cremation, Oh My!

When considering burial options, people have numerous choices to make. First and foremost would be, do I prefer traditional burial of the body (traditional burial) or cremation? Now, if cremation is your choice, the option to have a family member keep your cremated remains exists. I personally do not consider this to be a long term solution. I have encountered many families who have come to me with the ashes of a dear relative and have said something like, I would like to bury [insert name], I have had their ashes for some time and I am tired of dusting them, or maybe it was, she deserves better than being stored in the closet. I think you see my point. Even though I earnestly believe that a recorded burial in some fashion is the greatest respect that can be paid to any deceased human being. it is a personal decision that you have to make. Your decision here is what determines whether you are weighing the option of burial versus cremation or traditional burial versus cremation burial. As I plan to discuss cremation options more in depth in a future post, “that’s all I have to say about that”.

Choosing between traditional burial and cremation burial is the first step, after that many of your options are very similar. You could choose ground burial in which a grave is dug and your casket or urn is buried in the ground. This may or may not require the use of a burial vault or outer burial container, depending on the local laws and regulations. Often times with traditional burial there is the option to be buried at double depth. Another traditional burial option is above ground or mausoleum entombment in a crypt.

With cremation, your options are very similar. Cremation burial in the ground may be on your own lot or grave, or it may be possible to have your ashes buried in the same grave as another family member.  When choosing an above ground option for cremation, your ashes can be entombed in a niche located in a mausoleum or columbarium.

While the burial options mentioned above are the most common, there are variations of each. There are glass front niches, as the name implies the niches are constructed of glass on at least one side. This enables visitors to actually see the cremation urn as well as any photos or mementos of the deceased. There are cremation memorials which can be made of granite and resemble that of any other memorial or even a bench. These memorials will have a hollow cavity inside of them in which the cremated remains may be placed. Alternatively, there are bronze memorials that have a special urn that is actually placed under the person’s name plate, and into a space created by the foundation of the bronze memorial.

And finally there is green burial or natural burial. While relatively new as modern burial practices go, green burial is really just returning to a simpler method of burial, one that was the norm years ago.

Burial today is certainly not a “choice free necessity” as it once was, and you should know your options.

What’s the Difference Between a Graveyard and a Cemetery

A short history of cemeteries and burial.

The practice of burying the dead dates back to prehistoric times, it is obvious in Egypt with the Pyramids built for burials around 2500-3000 BC and even the Saxons buried their dead, who date back to at least the 2nd century.

In the Middle Ages, burial began to take place in “Graveyards” which were predominantly plots of land surrounding churches, as most of Europe was controlled by the church. But by the late 18th and 19th centuries, Graveyards were being replaced by Cemeteries.

With a rise in disease outbreak and an increasing population and limited space, governmental and religious authorities began to create new regulations. These regulations began to require larger tracts of land away from densely populated areas to be utilized for burial. As these areas were set aside specifically for the purpose of burial, they became more commonly known as”cemeteries”. The term cemetery originates from the Greek language meaning “sleeping place”. During this time many graveyards were abandoned, stone and bodies were removed and new uses were found for the land.

Today, the term cemetery is often used to refer to both cemeteries and small church graveyards.

How Does Someone Receive the Military Burial Flag

Often times, having a flag draped over a deceased Veteran’s casket and a Military Honor Guard at the funeral ceremony is the highest honor a veteran can receive, and sometimes it’s all they want. When there is a military service, the flag that is used during the service is presented to the next of kin or in their absence, a friend. The Department of Veterans Affairs has specific guidelines governing the display, presentation, folding and use of the military flag during and after the military funeral.

I have included two links for you. This first burial flag link takes you to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Burial Flag Page which contains an overview of the Burial Flag Guidelines. The second link takes you to the Application For United States Flag For Burial Purposes. This online PDF contains detailed information and guidelines concerning the Burial Flag as well as the application itself. It has been my experience however, that the Funeral Director will have the Burial Flag in time for the ceremony and therefore, there should be little to no paperwork for you to worry about. Rather, I have included these links for your information.

I hope this little tidbit of information helps you.

.Military Burial Flag