Plans in the works for ‘green burials’
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 12,2013
MONTPELIER — Proponents of “green burial” in Vermont are planning to screen a movie on the subject Wednesday as they look to build support for legislation allowing for more natural interment options.
Mary Alice Bisbee, a member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Vermont, said “Dying Green” will be presented Wednesday afternoon at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. The 27-minute movie highlights a natural reserve in South Carolina where bodies are being buried without caskets and embalming and often without gravestones.
The idea of a green burial without a casket, vault or embalming is growing in popularity as more people consider the environmental impacts of traditional burials, Bisbee said. But green burials are currently limited in Vermont because the state lacks legislation clarifying whether they are allowed beyond private property.
“Green burial is something that’s been happening all over the country. We don’t have any legislation in Vermont to do it, and the cemetery organizations in Vermont are not in favor of it,” she said. “Nobody likes to make big changes.”
Traditional burials have significant environmental and health impacts, according to Bisbee and other proponents of alternatives. “A lot of people are concerned with cemeteries taking up space and needing to be mowed and managed in a very formal way,” she said.
Additionally, embalming fluids, which usually contain a carcinogen in formaldehyde, can cause significant health issues for morticians.
Green burials eliminate most of those issues, according to Bisbee, and allow people to return to the earth after death.
“There are a lot of people that think being put in a casket and put inside a cement vault and buried 6 feet deep is not the way to go. It’s not back to nature,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I just want my body to go back to compost … in a quiet setting, and I don’t want to think of having a memorial and stone and have it kept up that way.’”
Current laws and regulations allow for a body to be buried on someone’s private land in a “green” fashion as long as GPS markings are filed with a town clerk. The burial must be away from water and power lines and listed on a property map, Bisbee said.
But the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Vermont is seeking legislation that would create natural reserves in Vermont. She said the state has plenty of wildlife areas and other natural sites that could serve as green burial areas.
Bisbee said she and others are seeking more detailed legislation than has been introduced in the past to clarify how and where green burials can take place, and to limit green burials on private property to family. The state should not be “changing the cemetery law to allow anybody to go out on their back 40 and do this with no regulation at all,” she said.
“This is something where I don’t think everybody should have the opportunity to bury people that are not family members or go into business or try to make a profit,” she said.
Legislation introduced last year was never considered by the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. The bill does not appear to be a high priority this year, either, according to Bisbee.
Nonetheless, advocates of green burial are reaching out to specific lawmakers to seek support. Prospects for action in 2014 are unclear, Bisbee said, but educating the public will continue and the alliance is working to draft legislation and seek legislative sponsors.
“We’re just trying to start doing some legwork. Possibly we’re going to have a bill to put in by January,” she said.
The free movie screening will be at 3:30 p.m., followed by a discussion.