The idea of a “green,” or environmentally friendly, burial is not a recent development but it has gained substantial popularity in the last few years. In a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 2007, 44% of respondents ages 65 and over indicated an interest in a green burial. The leading organization for setting green burial standards and providing certification for funeral homes is the Green Burial Council. The Council is run by mostly volunteers but has an attorney on its advisory board and claims to maintain all relevant legal documentation to demonstrate proof of compliance with GBC standards including conservation easements and deed restrictions. Natural burial practices include not treating the body with any chemicals like formaldehyde, using a biodegradable and nontoxic coffin or shroud and not using traditional gravestones. Green burials differ from conservation burials, which require a land trust to be willing to hold a conversation easement for the land. The requirement of an easement ensures that the standards for conversation burial on that land will be upheld in perpetuity.
One local government was not convinced by the environmental benefits of green burials and is refusing to allow GBC certified cemeteries in its town. On November 4, 2008 Bibb County, Georgia was the first county to ban green burials by enacting an ordinance that made it impossible for cemeteries offering environmentally friendly options to open. Small town rumors caused fear among citizens about decomposing bodies leaking into the groundwater and causing contamination. One particular legal concern regarding this ordinance is its requirement that burials in new cemeteries use leak-proof caskets and vaults. With no such caskets and vaults existing at this time, funeral directors would be in direct violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule and Georgia state law, which bars them from misrepresenting the qualities of burial boxes.
Bibb County appears to be the proverbial black sheep because as of today, there are no other counties that have passed an ordinance banning cemeteries that offer green burials. If there are any residents of Bibb County that are still interested in having a green burial, GBC’s website listed a certified cemetery in Conyers, Georgia, a town an hour away from Macon.
This story was originally reported in the Funeral Consumers Alliance blog.