Welcome to CARE (Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment)! CARE is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. We serve Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties with education, outreach, and direct campaigning on behalf of the environment and animals (human and non-human). We feel that it is important to make decisions about living based on respect for all beings and the Earth, and we encourage others to join us in adding plant-based foods to their diets. We invite you to explore our site to learn more about the animal and environmental issues we address, and we welcome you to join us in our work! CARE holds regular outreach events, dinners and potlucks.
Saving the gentlest departure for last. By Maryanne Appel, CARE Board Member
You’ve lived your life mindful of the footprint you are leaving behind, treading as lightly as you can on the earth. But what about the aftermath, what imprint will you be leaving then? Here are some choices, the pros and cons, to consider when planning for the inevitable journey that awaits all of us.
Conventional Funerals—For those concerned with environmental sustainability, it is advisable to avoid burials that use embalming, a process that slows decomposition. Cemeteries are filled with heavy metals, reinforced concrete, and hardwood, along with formaldehyde and other toxins from the embalming process, all of which can leach into the soil. Improvement has been made, however, in that at least some formaldehyde-free embalming fluids are now available.
The Green Burial Council informs us that “the manufacturing and transporting of vaults uses a tremendous amount of energy and causes enormous carbon emission. In the U.S., vault manufacturing requires the production of 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete.” Plus, huge amounts of pesticides and herbicides are used on the cemetery grounds year after year. “The box is pretty, the lawn is neat, and nature can’t get a word in edgewise.” (C. A. Beal in Be a Tree.)
Cremation—Although cremation does not require large tracts of land for cemeteries, fossil fuels, burning more than three hours for each cremation, are used in the incineration process. And the extremely high heat that is used (up to 2100 degrees F) vaporizes the body, releasing toxins, including heavy metals, that pollute the air and seep into soil and waterways. Newer facilities may be more environmentally friendly than older ones. For standards on cremation disposition programs, contact the Green Burial Council.
Green Burial—Natural burial uses biodegradable coffins which decompose along with the body. The interest in green burials is growing and the funeral business is taking heed.
In green burials, the body is prepared without chemicals and is buried in a shroud or a biodegradable casket made from woven-fiber containers, such as bamboo, wicker, and sea grass. Shrouds are made from organic cotton or hemp. Burial grounds may use natural
grave markers—native shrubs, trees, and flowers—which create a truly beautiful living memorial. An engraved flat stone obtained locally may also be used to mark the spot. So instead of a dead zone covered with irrigated, chemically treated grass, intrusive stone makers and mausoleums, natural cemeteries are ideally suited for birds, small mammals, and even deer. It’s a peaceful and inviting place for family and friends to visit.
Green burials are not only energy-efficient, and eco- and animal-friendly, they are also economically feasible: The cost for a conventional funeral averages $6,500; for cremation, about $3,500; and for natural, or green, between $1,000 and $4,000.
To guarantee that your burial is “green,” be sure that both the funeral home and cemetery you choose are certified by the Green Burial Council.
If your cemetery is not certified green, here are some tips from the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Philadelphia:
• If you reside in a rural area, check your local zoning laws. Most states allow green burials.
• Laws do not routinely require embalming, nor is embalming required by cemeteries.
• Laws do not cover the types of caskets used, so you may choose a biodegradable casket, or even a shroud.
• If your cemetery requires a vault, choose a concrete box with an open bottom to allow the body to come in contact with the earth.
The green burial movement has attracted much attention in the funeral business; unfortunately, a large number of funeral homes engage in “greenwashing” (the deceptive use of eco-friendly marketing). For reliable information on green burials, visit the Green Burial Council--the only one owned by an independent, nonprofit organization, with verifiable standards. Several GBC-certified funeral homes and cemeteries can be found in the Greater Philadelphia area. The website gives information on finding a responsible provider.
GBC also works with the Cremation Association of North America to encourage a more environmentally responsible cremation process.