Living with Dying: Green burial questions?

Editor’s note: This column is provided by the End of Life Care Partnership that has been operating here in Addison County for eight years. Its mission is “to create a framework for our organizations to collaborate on our common goal of providing education about dying, death and options for care.”
This column will work if we get questions from you, our readers.
We want to hear from you, what is on your mind and heart regarding this challenging issue that each of us will need to address in our lives? Send your questions to [email protected].
Here is a question submitted by a community member.
My question is about green burial. I feel that if one knows in advance what procedures will be followed when one dies, it may be easier to go in peace. A while ago we had a general meeting at Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society that explained what green burial is and some of the things we need to work towards. What is the current status of this effort?
Every time I pass a pleasant rural cemetery now I wonder if it is ever going to be “green!” So I am just wondering where it all stands at this time. — Jeannie Van Order
Here is a response from Michelle Acciavatti, a green burial educator and co-founder of the non-profit Green Burial Vermont, dedicated to promoting socially and environmentally conscious burial practices in Vermont:
As of 2017, a person can be buried unembalmed, in a biodegradable container or shroud, at a depth of at least 3.5 feet, in land managed in an ecologically sound manner, without a vault. This marks a return to how many Vermonters were buried well into the 20th century. However, because Vermont has comprehensive rules regarding placement and management of a new cemetery or addition and each cemetery determines its own by-laws, at this time no cemetery is prepared to create green burial areas that would accommodate this burial practice. The most important thing people can do to help green burial move forward is to contact their local cemetery commission and let them know they want a green burial so that logistical discussions can start taking place. Cemeteries in Vermont need to know just how important green burials are to the communities they serve.
Michelle Acciavatti is founder of Ending Well, which helps people “plan, prepare and experience their own good death.” She can be reached at [email protected].
Here is another response from Ron Slabaugh, a hospice volunteer who has trained with Beth Knox as a home funeral guide. He is part of the statewide organization Green Burial Vermont:
I have been advising people to approach the sexton of a cemetery they are interested in, asking if that cemetery would allow a green burial. I know of one instance of someone doing this and the cemetery charged an extra $100 for their lots for the purpose of adding more soil in a decade to maintain the cemetery level for mechanized mowing.
I have a friend who knows where he would like to be buried and would like that cemetery to establish a green burial section (“hybrid cemetery” in the lingo of the Green Burial Counsel) and perhaps plant it as a wild flower meadow, with paths and using natural field stones for grave markers. He attended the last meeting of the cemetery commission to inquire about this and they agreed to consider it. If enough of us start asking, it might happen. Once one or two cemeteries create a green burial section, their experience can help make it easier for other cemeteries.
Helpful Resources:
“Dying Green” – a film available to watch or buy online
“Grave Matters” – a book by Mark Harris available from the Hospice Volunteer Services Lending Library

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