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Unlike typical graveyards, a green burial graveyard has minimal impact on the land.

Instead of choosing a traditional casket to bury their father in, two children of one on family cam e to see Bill Goddard and Chuck Worstell, owners of Pushing Up Daisies, the only place that provides green burial in Columbia. There, they chose to hollow an old tree they used to make forts of as kids, and then buried their father in this unconventional casket.

A burial practice is coming back to life after decades of embalming and funeral rites being the modern-day norm: green burial. Green burial, as opposed to traditional funerals, is defined by the Green Burial Council as “practices that have minimal impact on the environment.” No embalming chemical solutions, vaults or even traditional caskets; it aims at going back to an older, ecological way of taking care of the deceased.

One of the most compelling factors of green burial is the low cost. Goddard and Worstell knew they wouldn’t earn a lot from it when they founded their business, but money wasn’t their main interest. They did it to protect the land and help families in their time of grief. Goddard says that unlike many funeral homes, they don’t have sales quotas. He jokes with Worstell that their only quota is two cups of coffee. “This is not something we’re doing for the money,” Goddard says.

Goddard and Worstell say their priority is to do no harm; everything that is put into the ground must be biodegradable. Being part-Native American, Goddard believes it’s important that they protect the land. “We’re stewards of the land,” he says. “We don’t want to mess up the ecosystem.”

The practice of green burial is inhibited by a lack of availability, but another obstacle is a lack of true understanding about what makes it so special.

Although green burial is a more economically and environmentally friendly option than embalming, many funeral homes encourage alternate and more expensive practices. The use of vaults — sealed receptacles that protect the casket from dirt and humidity — and embalming is something the industry has made people believe is a requirement. Vaults are alleged to prevent bodies from decomposing as quickly. The truth of the matter is that all steps outside of a green burial are unnecessary. “We’re just burying chemicals,” says Douglas Valentine, a sociology PhD candidate at MU studying funeral rites. Common practices such as cremation leave a carbon footprint that is equivalent to a 500-mile road trip, according to an article from Reuters.

Valentine says holding a “viewing,” and having an open casket, is exclusively a Western practice. University of Nevada PhD candidate Nicholas MacMurray says the industry relies on our anxiety and discomfort with death. Funeral homes alleviate this anxiety by dealing with the transportation and other arrangements — at an additional cost, that is. Americans consider all of these steps to be the norm, and their anxiety prevents them from questioning it. That’s how funeral homes get away with charging anywhere around $8,000 to upwards of $20,000 for their services. “Embalming is not legally mandated; it’s just something that is kind of the cultural norm,” MacMurray says.

MacMurray says an important aspect of green burial is that it helps people reconnect with death, which is something Western culture has long been uncomfortable with. “Some people talk about how this is a chance to reclaim death from the professional sphere,” he says.

Whether it is for religious, personal or environmental reasons, people in the United States are looking for a simpler way to say goodbye to their loved ones. Green burial, as small as it still is today, is tempting to those who want simplicity, with its promise of going back to nature. 

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