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Funerals/Cremains eco-friendly burials


QUESTION: When people have cremains buried in an natural and environmentally
minded setting, what does that process of placing the cremains into the ground look like?
Are there requirements? I am guessing there are regulations that vary from state to state? Is there a place to research this information?

Thank you so much for your connection and your consideration in

ANSWER: Hi there, and thanks for your question, Michelle,

I'll start with the regulations-side of your questions first, beginning with some caveats:

* There are no Federal regulations related to their INTERMENT. Burying cremated remains is NOT a "Final Disposition" - that was the cremation itself; the cremated remains are calcium phosphate (bones), they are considered personal property; they pose no hazard, and are technically of no interest to a governing body.
* There are a lot of  State rules and regulations that appear to apply to funerals and dispositions but very few that actually apply directly to the interment of cremated remains.
* Rules may apply to memorialization rights but those are different than interring the remains.
* Some States have tried to regulate the burial of cremated remains (with fees to the State attached, of course). It's not clear whether or not these will stand over time.
* Just because it's a regulation doesn't mean it's Constitutional.

The Pennsylvania funeral rules have been upended recently by a District Court ruling that found them laced with preference and bias. This was a precedent-setting case that has all mortuary boards looking closely at revising any rules that appear to unfairly interfere with business or overreach their board authority. Consequently, if you find any regulations that affect what you would like to do, it's really important to understand who's writing them, to whom they actually apply, and what the public or environmental health purpose of them might be.

It's hard for me to see the purpose behind any regulation of the interment of cremated remains on private land that takes place with both parties' consent outside of normal contract law if money has changed hands.

The book "Final Rights" by Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum has a lot of helpful information about State regulations and practices in general that's oriented to consumers.

There's no standard process for placing the cremated remains in the ground in a natural setting. Some considerations are:

* Incinerated Calcium phosphate is not really a plant nutrient unless chemically solubilized, so planting anything directly into it isn't very helpful to plants except for in the very long term
* It's ideal to mix the cremated remains with soil (5:1 or so should be fine; not really that critical)but not everyone's up for that
* For interments where the remains might be wanted again, an urn vault or non-degradable urn should be used
* For interments that 'go back to the land', a biodegradable urn of paper, fabric, woven wicker, green-fired clay or other natural material is best.

For people selling the interment rights for cremated remains that are buried naturally, it's important that the contract make clear the person understands the interment is permanent, and that there is no disinterment possible (or permitted) when using this method.

Hope that helps!


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QUESTION: Cynthia, thank you for the most informative answer!
I do have a follow up question. Is there a protocol when burying the remains? Ex: Depth needed if burying an eco-friendly vessel? (I have heard of people having a 4' deep hole to place the vessel into.)
Thanks again for your expertise!


There's no protocol I've heard of that's based on science OR law.

Individually, cemetery operators will have a standard depth because they sell platted interment rights and have to proscribe that area in a contract.

I'm not sure I could see any purpose in a 4' hole unless it is to preserve future interment rights on top - and a 4' deep hole would be removing a lot of extra earth, as well.

Again, because there's absolutely no harm possible with cremated remains, there is no health requirement to bury at all(we have scattering gardens)so any depth requirement would be either arbitrary or have to do with a ritual, a spatial definition, or some other process desired that was specific to the circumstance.

With respect to biodegrading the container, soil microbes are most active in the top 20 inches of soil, and the more active the soil, the faster the container disperses.

If planting a woody shrub or tree on top, I recommend planting either mixed with the soil (no container) or putting the container a bit to one side of the planting hole so that it's not directly under any tap roots (that like to grow straight) nor interfering with the normal development of the plant. In this instance, a deeper planting below where the ball is going would make sense.



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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and over a decade of running the Natural Burial Company, founded in 2004. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions, and I own two historic cemeteries the feature natural burial, based in Oregon.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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