2012-03-23 / Business

Green burials growing in popularity

By Warner M. Montgomery
WarnerM@ TheColumbiaStar.com

Technological advances changed the way we buried our dead. The ancient Egyptians, experts in the chemistry of preservation, believed that if a preserved body were entombed with samples of wealth, favorite toys and animals, and even spouses, then the deceased would arrive happily in the next life surrounded by material goods.

Over the years, however, the embalming technique was lost and replaced by new religious beliefs, and natural burial became popular. Bodies were wrapped and placed in the ground or cremated and the ashes disposed of appropriately.

With the rise of scientific methodology and the industrial revolution human burial practices changed again. Decomposition delaying formaldehyde, air-and water-proof vaults, and mausoleums became common place. Forests were clear-cut, irrigated, and flooded with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Beautiful landscaped cemeteries filled up with bodies full of embalming fluid, caskets made of wood, steel, copper, bronze, concrete, and plastic flowers, and granite headstones stacked up. None of which decomposed… on purpose. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes was forgotten. Nature was denied recycling.


The oldest grave in the Shiloh Cemetery is that of Ike Purshay, 1876-1923. The oldest grave in the Shiloh Cemetery is that of Ike Purshay, 1876-1923. Jews and Muslems kept their ancient burial methods. Jews utilize ritual washing of the body which is buried in a wooden box, insuring decomposition. Muslems wash and bury a cloth-wrapped body in the ground. Neither use chemicals.

Others have come up with their own methods of burying the dead. Some Swedes freeze dry the body reducing it to powder. Tibetans place the corpse on a mountain top as food for animals, similar to practices once used by Native Americans.

Recently, earth- toearth burials have reemerged as an environmental substitute for antidecomposition disposal of human bodies. In the U.S. the movement is known as the Green Burial Movement and green cemeteries are being established around the country.

The Green Burial Council (GBC) has established standards with the involvement of environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, and representatives from the funeral service industry. The council maintains relevant documentation (i.e. conservation easements, deed restrictions, general price lists, material safety data sheets, engineering reports) to demonstrate proof of compliance with GBC standards.

Greenhaven Preserve ( 1701 Vanboklen Road, Eastover, SC 29044, 843.839.4100 Ext 102) has recently become a member of the S.C. Cemetery Association. Tara McCoy, a native of Columbia and resident of Conway, director of marketing, recently gave me a tour.

Greenhaven Preserve is a 10-acre natural burial cemetery on 360 acres between Eastover and Garners

Ferry Road. It is located on property formerly owned by Shiloh AME Church and previously the site of Shiloh School that closed in 1954 when its 70 students joined Richland School District One. The church moved to McCords Ferry Road (Highway 601) where Henry T. Brown is pastor. The Shiloh Cemetery remains on the property.

McCoy states that their mission is to restore and protect the surrounding fields and forests, waters and wildlife, views and vistas while providing a simple, meaningful, and sustainable alternative to modern burial. The overriding commitment is to preserve and protect the environment and to sustain the sacred ground upon which Greenhaven Preserve lies.

That is a noble purpose and from what I observed they are off to a good start. Since it is within the COWASEE Basin, they have agreed to protect the wildlife on the property by joining the Congaree Land Trust.

McCoy, who commutes from Conway during the week, defines a green burial (or natural burial) as a burial alternative that allows the body to be returned to the earth and naturally recycled into new life without the use of toxic embalming fluids, metal caskets, and concrete vaults.

Greenhaven’s regulations include:

• Burial spaces shall not be used for any purpose other than as a burial place for the deceased.

• Only one person per space is allowed. Deceased infants, children, and pets are considered on an individual basis.

• Burial space for cremated remains is available.

• Each burial space in the cemetery will be mapped and a GPS or GIS location shall be recorded at time of interment.

• Visitors may visit during daylight hours. Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.

• Funerals must be completed one hour before dusk. Funeral parties may help close the grave if they wish.

• No vaults or grave liners are permitted.

• Bodies or cremains may be interred only in natural biodegradable materials. Metal, concrete, plastic, or other synthetic materials and stone may not be used.

• Deceased bodies that are embalmed or chemically preserved may only be interred in designated areas.

• Graveside flowers left during any interment shall be removed within seven days of interment. Ceramic, glass vases, or artificial flowers may not be placed on burial spaces.

• No polished markers or monuments of any kind are permitted. Engraved natural, flat rocks, granite, or other stones indigenous to the area are permitted.

• The cemetery is staffed Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2-5 p.m. (with 24-hour on-call).

Return to top