Green burial options sensible for environment and wallet
October 20, 2020
The concept of a funeral for most Wisconsinites conjures a picture of a funeral home gathering space or the sanctuary of a church, an ornate casket, and a plot of earth in a cemetery. And a big bill. But did you know that Wisconsin offers different types of burials that are both kinder to the earth and less expensive?
The concept might start with a casket. Sandy Mosher’s father-in-law decided before he died that he wanted a simple burial, one that was earth-friendly. The family found a simple pine casket made by Trappist monks at www.trappistcaskets.com, which nine years ago cost $1,250. Today that same casket costs between $1,250 and $1,750, depending on the wood it’s made from and the style. Other options include biodegradable containers made from paper, cardboard, willow, sea-grass or even bamboo.
“The whole family is environmentally friendly,” Mosher, who lives in Milton, said. And, because her father-in-law was a devout Catholic, “that it’s made by monks factored in, too.” Mosher says the family was so satisfied that her mother-in-law plans to purchase the same casket for her own burial.
With cremations becoming an increasingly chosen option in Wisconsin, scattering a loved one’s ashes is a possibility within the state, too. It is legal to scatter ashes on your own private property or on someone else’s with their permission. Scattering ashes on Lakes Superior or Michigan is also an option. Boating companies that cater to this desire are easily found by a simple Internet search. They will make sure that the scattering occurs more than three nautical miles from shore, the legal requirement for a water burial in the state. Please note that the Environmental Protection Agency must be notified 30 days before the water burial takes place. Scattering gardens dot the state, and interested folks can research a favorite state or federal park to get permission for scattering a loved one’s ashes there. Note that ashes must be no larger 1/8-inch.
The Natural Path Sanctuary in Verona’s The Farley Center is a green cemetery made up of preserved land. The sanctuary limits burials there to 10 to 30% of its land. The concept here is to allow the body to return naturally to the earth, continuing the natural cycle of life. That means no toxic chemicals, such as embalming fluids, are allowed, and cement or metal vaults may not be used. Burial containers have to be made from non-precious, untreated wood. The sanctuary encourages families to consider the burial with the least environmental impact of all: a simple, biodegradable shroud. Although the sanctuary does accept the burial of ashes, it encourages families to choose a burial as it has less negative impact on the environment. Wisconsin requires that 15% of the burial plot’s price go into an endowment to maintain the preserve.
The average cost of a traditional funeral in North America costs between $7,000 and $10,000, according to the web site Partings (https://www.parting.com/blog/funeral-costs-how-much-does-an-average-funeral-cost/). In contrast, Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage cites typical green burial costs:
Plot $ 750-3,500
Open/ close grave $ 300-700
Ash scattering $ 200-300
Ash burial $ 200-1,100
Biodegradable urn $ 60-230
It’s important to weigh all the options when it comes to laying a loved one to rest. Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage points out that, depending on the choices the family makes, a green burial can cost $5,000 or even more. Choosing a natural burial site generally means that no traditional upright monuments are allowed. Instead, markers might be flush with the ground or be affixed to a natural rock to mark the grave. And like many traditional commentaries, the natural burial site might limit laying flowers or planting them in order to preserve a pristine natural landscape.
For information on Wisconsin’s rules for family disposition of human remains, visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p0/p00774.pdf.