Eco-friendly burials offered locally

2009-06-23T00:00:00Z Eco-friendly burials offered locallyANDREA HOLECEK
Times Correspondent
June 23, 2009 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Northwest Indiana residents planning to leave the earth making their final statement a "green" one, soon can choose to be buried in the most environmentally friendly manner.

Burns Funeral Home and Crematorium, which has locations in Crown Point and Hobart, currently is joining the New Mexico-based Green Burial Council., and being certified to handle "green burials."

A green burial is burial that takes place without the use of formaldehyde-based embalming, metal caskets or vaults, according to the four-year-old council.

Despite common belief, state laws do not require embalming except in certain circumstances, while the use of vaults is cemetery policy rather than a legal requirement, said its Executive Director Joe Sehee.

Green burials are standard in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, and were done in the United States until embalming became the norm in the late 1800s. he said.

About 225 of the nation's almost 20,000 funeral homes have requested and received the nonprofit council's certification, according to Sehee. And more and more are expected to join the group as people become aware there is a biodegradable alternative to traditional burial methods, he said.

The American Association for Retired People's 2007 survey indicated that 21 percent of those surveyed, who were older than 50, would prefer to be buried in an ecologically adaptive manner, but only 19 percent had heard about green burial, Sehee said.

"Most funeral homes don't want to do it," he said Tuesday. "They've been doing things the same way for years and see no reason to change. There's a real gap between what families want and what homes are willing to provide. ... It's an alternative to cremation, and we want people to know they have options."

Among the options are true green burial, and several "shades of green" burials, depending on the method of preparing the body, the use of shrouds or blankets rather than caskets, the type of casket, the use of a burial vault and burial at a designated green cemetery.

When certified, Burns' establishment will be the ninth Indiana funeral home with the designation, and the only one in Northwest Indiana. Currently, Sommerfeld-Smith Family Funeral Home in New Buffalo, Mich., and Tezak's Home to Celebrate Life in Joliet, Ill., are the nearest to the region with the Green Burial Council's certification.

More and more people are asking about green burial, Burns Funeral Home Director Jim Burns said.

"I think green burials will be a trend but not a huge trend," he said. "There will be a percentage of funerals that could increase over time. Like anything that involves ecology, as generations come up, people will be more ecologically inclined."

Joe Canaday, of Hippensteel Funeral Service and Crematory in Lafayette, said his home has done three green burials and has 25 more that are preplanned.

"Most are for environmentalists and those who care about the environment and the future of our planet," Canaday said. "I really believe it is a movement, not a fad."

Burns said he doesn't want people to think he is encouraging green burials.

"We are here to provide it with dignity and expertise for families that want it," he said. "In this area, people seem to know very little about it. People can call us with questions. We want to be able to provide information on it, so people will understand there are options."

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