Dust to Dust: Green burials are a growing trend in Colorado

Lafayette company is helping people die naturally

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. -- We all know what it means to live green, but what about dying green?

Less costly goodbyes known as green burials are growing in popularity in Colorado and a new Lafayette business is helping people die as naturally as possible, with minimal impact to the earth.

"It's a whole new approach to end of life care," explained Prescott Knock, the executive director of the Natural Funeral.

Those who chose to live green also want to die green, which is how the green burial idea was born.

"Many of the people that are socially conscious, environmentally conscious really appreciate that alternative," said Knock.

Knock's new venture in the heart of downtown Lafayette will be one of the first in the state to help people die green. The Natural Funeral plans to open this summer at 102 West Chester Street after renovations are completed on the existing buildings.

What is a green burial?

The burials look more like something straight out of the wild west than your traditional cemetery.

"The grass is going to remain tall, we're going to pull weeds mechanically by hand," said Roselawn Cemetery Supervisor Kevin Williams. "We leave the ground more mounded."

A green burial or natural funeral means your body is placed directly into the ground in a pine casket or shroud.

"When a pine casket goes into the ground it's just going to biodegrade," explained Luc Nadeau, the owner of Nature's Casket, who makes pine caskets out of his backyard workshop in Longmont.

There is no fancy headstone, concrete vault, or costly casket. Instead, they use flat granite markers.

"We leave the ground more mounded and heaped with dirt and as the dirt settles, naturally, we add more dirt and once it becomes level will reseed it with native grass," explained Williams. "Kind of like a prairie feel to it."

Cemeteries with green burial options

Roselawn Cemetary in Fort Collins is also betting big on the green burial concept.

"We set aside about three acres of this for the future," said Williams, the cemetery supervisor.

So far, he said eight people have been buried in the green section of the cemetery.

"We have eight other people who've purchased spaces, they just haven't been used yet," explained Williams.

There are other cemeteries that offer green burial options including Crestone Cemetery in Galena, and Evergreen Memorial Park.

To embalm or not to embalm?

There is no embalming used during a green funeral.

"Embalming is quite an evasive process, very toxic to the earth," said Knock.

Embalming fluid is a mixture of formaldehyde and other chemicals that can leach into the air and soil. To prevent that, a green burial preserves the body using ice and cooling tables, and then the body is treated with essential oils.

"The washing and love, the taking leave of the physical remains...-- it's relaxing, and certainly in the atmosphere around death there are emotions...-- it's to bring those down a little bit to a more peaceful place," said Karen van Vuurren, the Natural Funeral care program coordinator.

Under Colorado law, a body does not have to embalmed to be buried in the ground. A non-embalmed body either has be taken care of within 24 hours or properly refrigerated.

Natural products

All the products used at the Natural Funeral are also locally sourced and naturally made.

From the pine caskets made at Nature's Casket in Longmont, to Blair's Herbal products made in Boulder, to Amber Lights Candles in Longmont where the candles are made with 100 percent beeswax.

"Everything I make in this room is designed to support healing," said Blair Chandler, owner of Blair's Herbals.

Less costly goodbyes

Green funerals can also cost significantly less than the average traditional or conventional burial.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, fancier options like mahogany, bronze or copper caskets can run up to $10,000.

Add in the cost of embalming, concrete vaults, hearse and other fees, and the average cost of a funeral is between $7,000 to $10,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

A natural or green funeral is less than half that.

Pine caskets at Nature's Casket run around $600 to $800. With no costs for embalming or fancy headstone, the average green funeral is around $2,000 to $3,000.

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