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Burials are also going green

Funerals join construction, home décor and even chocolate as part of the local ecological trend.

By Celeste Smith
cesmith@charlotteobserver.com

Now arriving to the local green movement: Heritage Funeral Home and Forest Lawn East Cemetery in Weddington, offering what is billed as the area's first “Green Burial” program.

While some may call this just another segment of a trend, consider all the directions the green movement is headed – toxic-free green cleaners, new buildings featuring daylight as a main element, even chocolates with proceeds benefitting wildlife and other environmental causes.

Green is in around our region.

There's the expected: The City of Rock Hill touting 10 new homes in its affordable housing program built to energy and environmental standards.

There's the scientific: A first-of-its-kind, environmentally friendly refrigeration system, at a new Harris Teeter in the Ballantyne area.

The cute: Kids converting plastic voting machine containers into portable “creation stations” for their art, at the Museum of York County later this month.

And for the home décor crowd: The Better Home Show in Matthews, a new galleria promoting eco-friendly vendors of wares such as recycled glass countertops and solar hot water heaters.

So it's natural the trend moves toward something so … natural, say advocates of green burials.

The Heritage Funeral Home's concept is this: Bodies of deceased people are prepared in either street clothes or a cotton shroud, then placed in a simple cardboard container or pine box – or just placed directly into the grave at Forest Lawn East. Bodies are not embalmed.

The cemetery is advertising a “green section” for these burials, which includes a gazebo and a walking trail in the woods. Boulders from streams will be used as headstones.

“Nothing is removed except for branches that fall down from the trees,” said Karen Reardon, director of sales and marketing for Heritage Funeral Home and Forest Lawn East Cemetery.

With costs ranging from $3,050 to $5,075 for the funeral and burial – about half the traditional process – Reardon said green plans will appeal to baby boomers who do not want to spend a lot of money on death expenses.

“They want to spend it on living and giving it to their children and grandchildren,” Reardon said.

The green burial offering is unusual in North Carolina, according to Reardon, who belongs to the N.C. Cemetery Association. The group has discussed green burials, Reardon said, but hasn't carried forward until now.

“The process is to be natural,” Reardon said. “We don't believe it's necessary to spend a whole lot of money to go out of this life.”

The booming popularity of green means almost any job or offering can have a green component to it, said Marsha Bollinger, chair of environmental sciences and studies and professor of geology at Winthrop University. Bollinger, commenting on the movement in general, says the responsibility is on consumers to ask questions, to make sure a particular green purchase is really what they support.

Upon hearing green, “we should say, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that contains recycled content? Does it mean there aren't certain chemicals in it? Then you have to decide whether that's worth it in the long run,” Bollinger said.

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