Preble Memory Gardens Cemetery is the first cemetery in the Dayton area and one of two in Ohio to be certified by the Green Burial Council to do a form of human disposition that is designed to be better for the environment, conserve natural resources and preserve habitats.
The method is called Conservation Green Burial and some Ohio cemeterians are on the fence about whether this alternative to traditional casket burial will become as popular as cremation.
What is certain, is that it’s giving Ohioans some say about their final resting place.
“It’s a burial with no vault liner that uses a biodegradable casket or shroud and no formaldehyde-based embalming,” said Shannon Shoup, the council’s program director.
“There is no requirement that a body be embalmed prior to burial,” said Vanessa Niekamp, executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
PMG’s certification includes the Robert L. Crooks Funeral Center, which is located on PMG’s grounds.
PMG has 7.2 acres that has been put into a conservation easement trust that will be used for their green burial.
“It will always be what it is. It is wooded land, it’s forest land. It can never been changed from what it is for any kind of development. No buildings or roads (can be placed) there,” said Dan Appenzeller, PMG’s operating manager.
Once the body is placed inside the gravesite, PMG staff will mound the grave and put leaves, mulch and twigs on top of it to help with the composting process.
“Then we can begin to use that as a replanting area,” Appenzeller said of the gravesite.
Foxfield Preserve in Wilmot, the first cemetery in the country to be operated by a conservation organization, allows family members to plant a tree or wild flowers on the graves, according to Sarah Starr, steward of the preserve.
Traditional burials usually involve a casket being placed in a concrete vault.
“Annually in the U.S., we bury enough concrete vaults to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit and enough steel and caskets to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge,” Starr said. “It’s staggering how many resources we waste in trying to stop what is actually just a natural biological process.”
Concrete is not biodegradable, but appears not to be a hazard for the environment, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“We don’t specifically regulate concrete,” said Heather Lauer, Ohio EPA spokeswoman.
Fred Wehr, general manager of Woodside Cemetery in Middletown, said vaults are necessary toprevent disturbing nearby gravesites.
Woodside is not certified by the council, but does offer a burial where the bottom of the concrete vault is removed.
“We basically get the same effect as green burial,” Wehr said.
Bob Moses, president of the Ohio Cemetery Association that is headquartered in Centerville, said the cost of the green burials is likely why more cemeteries are not offering them.
“It’s not as popular around here because you need to purchase a larger piece of ground to make the green burial because you are burying (the body without a vault),” Wehr said. “In order for you not to make that ground cave into the next grave, you are going to buy three times as much.”
Appenzeller said green burial at PMG can cost up to $2,750 and believes people can save money on this type of burialbecause the deceased is buried in either a shroud, a simple wooden box, cardboard container or some other biodegradable material. Plus, there is no monument or headstone allowed on gravesites in conservation green burial, so that cuts down on the cost, he said.
“While costs can be a factor, people are not doing this for economic reasons,” Appenzeller said. “They are making the decision to do this because it comes from the heart. They are interested in preserving nature.”
“Cost is a very important issue when it comes to death,” Wehr said. He added that cremation became popular because it was cheaper than traditional casket burial.
Moses said if the trend picks up among commercial cemeteries, the cost of theburials would eventually go down.
“It certainly has potential (to take off here in Ohio),” Moses said. “It’s whether or not the public is going to embrace.”
How it works
Conservation Green Burial is placing deceased persons into the earth in a manner that helps protect, preserve and nurture the land, forests, waterways, wildlife and ecosystems.
The deceased is buried in a biodegradeable material and there is no use of a concrete burial vault or formaldehyde-based embalming.
Certified Green Burial Council providers in Ohio
- Preble Memory Gardens Cemetery, 3377 U.S. 35 East in West Alexandria - Conservation Burial Ground
- Foxfield Preserve in Wilmot, Stark County - Conservation Burial Ground
- Canton Cemetery Association North Lawn Cemetery - Natural Burial Ground
The Dayton Daily News has been following the death care industry closely over the last couple years. In 2012, Reporter Kelli Wynn introduced the Miami Valley Region to a new and controversial form of final disposition called alkaline hydrolysis, a process that puts a body inside a stainless-steel cylinder machine that is used to accelerate natural decomposition, shrinking years into hours.