‘Green burials’ still a niche market


By MARION RENAULT

The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS

Ken Buzzelli seeks his late wife in a blade of grass, as instructed on her grave marker.

Before she passed away from lung cancer at age 50 in 2009, Laura Buzzelli – who worked with emotionally disturbed children and was an environmentalist before going green was trendy – opted for a natural burial in the prairie grasses of Foxfield Preserve, a nature cemetery near the Stark County village of Wilmot.

“It’s a burial ground, but there’s bluebirds and butterflies. It’s teeming with life, which is ironic,” said 59-year-old Ken Buzzelli of Canton. “It’s the old ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust.”

Amid concern over climate change and pollution, more consumers such as Buzzelli are contemplating the impact of their last carbon footprint. Cemeteries and funeral homes are seeing a modest uptick in interest in green burials, but the age-old practice remains a niche in the afterlife industry.

“It’s really not a new concept,” said Amy Henricksen, steward of Kokosing Nature Preserve near Gambier. Since 2015, the site has performed four natural burials and sold 18 interment rights. “I think it’s awareness; people don’t realize it’s an option.”

Green burials limit a body’s earthly impact by minimizing or eliminating the energy, materials and toxic chemicals used in conventional practices, funeral professionals say. Unembalmed bodies are wrapped in a shroud or placed in coffins made of wicker, cardboard or another biodegradable material. They are laid in soil, not concrete vaults. Trees, native plants or natural stones mark graves.

No objective data tracks green burials, funeral professionals say. But nearly two-thirds of adults 40 or older expressed interest in green funeral options, up from just 43 percent five years earlier, according to a 2015 Funeral and Memorial Information Council survey of 1,200 people.

Yet interest rarely translates into commitment, said Dan Gochenouer, caretaker for Glen Forest Cemetery in Yellow Springs. In the past three years, Gochenouer has overseen 250 traditional burials and just nine natural ones.

“We’re pretty liberal, natural, organic. I get a lot of interest, a lot of calls asking about it,” he said. “It’s a very popular idea. But traditional is still the tradition.”

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