Cemetery eyes adding green burial locations

Living a green life is popular with the people of South Whidbey. And so, apparently, is staying green in death.

Langley’s Woodmen Cemetery recently sold out of its green burial plots and is seeking new areas to designate for the eco-friendly end-of-life practice. The cemetery began offering the service in 2010 with nearly 100 plots.

At a Langley City Council meeting this month, City Clerk Debbie Mahler said the plots had been in high demand and asked council to approve public works staff to locate areas that were available to expand into.

Green burials use only natural materials and the bodies cannot be embalmed, unless it is done so with nontoxic chemicals approved by the Green Burial Council. There isn’t a traditional cement liner, and caskets are only used if they are made of biodegradable materials such as wood, paper products, bamboo or sea grass. Cloth shrouds are also acceptable, Mahler said in an email.

Compost is added to the soil and the graves are mounded rather than flat, she said, and require soil to be added over time.

“The point is to let the body and any covering compost naturally into the soil, which is much more beneficial to the environment,” said Mahler. “Many people find this a better option to traditional burial and some prefer to hand dig their graves instead of having a backhoe dig them.”

The trend isn’t unique to Langley, either. More than 70 percent of cemeteries report an increased demand last year, according to The New York Times.

The plots are 6 feet by 10 feet, larger than the standard of 4 feet by 8 feet, to allow for more surrounding space. Because there are no cement liners, a maintenance vehicle or backhoe can’t drive over the graves without risking collapse. The new plots under consideration will be 6 feet by 9 feet, Mahler said.

The graves are filled sequentially from one end to the other to ensure equipment can access the graves until they are used.

Public works staff has marked some spots at the graveyard that could be used for future green burials, and the cemetery board will assess the sites. City council members must give final approval before the new plots are established.

Other more traditional methods of burial tend to have a significant environmental impact. A standard cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip and releases approximately 880 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according the Reuters.

One study found the U.S. uses approximately 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid per year and 1.6 million tons of concrete, according to the Green Burial Council.

Mahler said there isn’t yet a timetable for when the new sites will officially be established at the Langley cemetery.