City OKs 'green' burials

Residents who want to bury loved ones in an environmentally sensitive way in Ashland no longer have to place the casket or shroud inside a concrete or metal liner or vault.

The Ashland City Council voted on Tuesday to allow such "green" burials in city cemeteries.

Previously, the Ashland Municipal Code required the use of liners or vaults to prevent settling of the ground at the grave site. City staff members who manage city cemeteries said they expect some settling to occur with green burials, but that the problem isn't anything they can't handle.

The city of Ashland made the change because it has been receiving requests from residents that green burials be allowed, said Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught.

"It's a step forward for those folks who want a natural burial, without having to have a concrete vault," Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home and Crematory Assistant Manager Mel Friend said of the recent municipal code change.

With modern cemeteries, bodies began to be buried close together, which is one reason why people started using concrete or metal liners or vaults. If a person is buried without a liner or vault, there is a chance that the integrity of the gravesite could be compromised if a new grave is dug next to it, Friend cautioned.

For a full green burial, a body is not embalmed. It is placed in a biodegradable casket or shroud and lowered directly into the ground, with no liner or vault, he said.

Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home and Crematory, located in Ashland, offers green burial services and products, including pine caskets that aren't finished with lacquer or toxic chemicals, sustainably harvested woven seagrass or willow caskets and linen shrouds.

"The purpose is to allow the body to go back to the Earth more quickly than in a metal casket," Friend said.

The funeral home offers refrigeration of bodies so that embalming fluids don't have to be used as preservatives.

According to the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Green Burial Council, embalming fluid is usually made from the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde. A 2009 National Cancer Institute study found that funeral directors have a high incidence of myeloid leukemia.

The manufacture and transportation of concrete and metal liners and vaults uses a tremendous amount of energy and causes carbon emissions, according to the Green Burial Council.

Cremation uses far fewer natural resources than almost any other disposition method, but it still involves the burning of fossil fuels. Mercury can also be emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, although effective mercury filtration devices are expected to come on the market next year, according to the Green Burial Council.

Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home and Crematory has been approved by the Green Burial Council to offer green burial packages. Most of its green burial products have also been certified by the council.

Green burial can be less expensive than traditional burial, depending on which options are chosen.

Traditional steel and wood caskets range in price from $1,295 to $8,995, according to prices on the Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home and Crematory Web site.

For green burials, a linen shroud with straps that allow it to be lowered into the grave costs as little as $595, while the highest priced option, a handmade woven willow casket, costs $1,795.

The lowest cost grave liner or vault, one made of polypropylene, costs $895, while the most expensive option, a concrete vault, costs $3,295.

Doing away with a liner or vault eliminates that expense.

Friend said there are no plots left for green burials in the city-owned historic Ashland Cemetery on East Main Street or the historic Hargadine Cemetery above North Main Street, but there are plots available for green burials in the city's historic Mountain View Cemetery on Ashland Street.

The privately owned Scenic Hills Memorial Park outside Ashland near Ashland Vineyards does have space for green burials. That memorial park was not affected by the city's previous requirement that vaults and liners be used, Friend said.

While green burials may seem new, they actually represent a return to older burial techniques that were common before the 20th century, he said.

"It's a revisiting of the way it used to be," Friend said.

For more information on green burials, visit or

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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