PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A Parkersburg funeral home is giving the environmentally conscious some peace of mind, even after death.

Leavitt Funeral Home is the only funeral home in the state to offer eco-friendly services, called green burial.

Jon Leavitt, co-owner and director at Leavitt Funeral Home, said they offer services ranging from handmade caskets to embalming with nontoxic chemicals.

“The whole purpose of green funerals is to limit the impact on the Earth and your carbon footprint after you have died,” Leavitt said. “You’re trying to limit what’s left.”

Leavitt said the most complete green burial would begin with a body embalmed with nontoxic chemicals. Once the body is preserved, it would be dressed in natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, which decompose, unlike synthetics. The body would then be placed in a biodegradable casket made of recycled woods or bamboo and lined with linen. After the funeral service, the body would be taken to a cemetery where it would be laid to rest.

Leavitt said some West Virginia cemeteries are beginning to section off pieces of land for green burials, but one place in Ohio offers ground solely for these burials.

Foxfield Preserve, located at the Wilderness Center in Wilmot, Ohio, is a nature preserve that also serves as a final resting place for the environmentally conscious.

“Most people select it because they want to be buried in a beautiful place in nature,” said Gordon Maupin, director of the Wilderness Center. “A lot of people select it because they feel it just makes sense to go back to land without toxic chemicals and vaults. They feel those resources don’t benefit society.”

Maupin said people were interred naturally for thousands of years until the Civil War. He said that’s when embalming with chemicals began, so the bodies of fallen soldiers could be preserved.

“Then it gradually evolved into a ’keep up with the Joneses’ thing,” Maupin said. “There were fancier, more expensive caskets and more glorious monuments.”

Grave markers at Foxfield Preserve are optional. Leavitt said some nature-preserve cemeteries around the country use GPS coordinates to locate graves.

“The family might plant a tree in that spot instead of putting up a monument,” Leavitt said. “You’re not putting granite and bronze plaques and things that aren’t natural in that area.”

Leavitt Funeral Home and Foxfield Preserve both are accredited by the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit group that encourages sustainable care for the deceased.

Maupin said the council has also accredited preserves in New York and South Carolina, and other properties are in the planning stages. He said he often hears of people wanting to start similar cemeteries in different parts of the country.

“I would say it’s quite likely a growing trend,” he said.

Leavitt said he thinks it may be a while before West Virginia sees anything like Foxfield Preserve, but it’s possible.

“It took a long time for green cars and green homes, but we worked those into our culture and thought processes,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt Funeral Home has provided only a few green services in the year they have been offered. Leavitt said families who typically prefer cremation are expressing interest in the green burials.

“Green burials are actually more environmentally friendly than cremation,” Leavitt said. “When you do cremation, you’re using a natural gas such as propane to burn, and it does give off some emissions.”

Maupin said the environment benefits from these green burials. He said the soil processes dead wildlife all the time, and a human embalmed with nontoxic chemicals is no different.

“A nature preserve is a much cleaner watershed than, say, an urban runoff,” Maupin said. “A nature preserve derives good water quality. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for nature and it’s good for the pocketbook.”

Maupin said 10- by 20-foot burial plots at Foxfield Preserve are sold for $3,200 and allow for two bodies in each space.

Leavitt Funeral Home offers three green packages with prices similar to conventional funeral packages — from about $2,500 to $3,500. Leavitt said some costs associated with green burials are a little higher because of the materials involved.

“The services might be a little bit more because the chemicals are a little bit more expensive,” Leavitt said. “The embalming may be a little bit more than the traditional, but you’re really not doing anything different in terms of services.”

Leavitt said use of handmade caskets could also drive up the price. He said material used to manufacture the caskets is not cheap.

The funeral home also works with florists to ensure plastic flowers are not sent to the funeral home, Leavitt said. Typically, after a person is buried, the flowers sent to the funeral home are taken to the gravesite and are used to conceal the dirt covering the grave. Leavitt said someone, usually the maintenance crew at the cemetery, has to throw away those plastic flowers because they are not biodegradable.

Maupin said Foxfield Preserve and other cemeteries like it do not allow plastic flowers.

“We allow people to leave cut flowers,” Maupin said. “It’s like a regular cemetery as far as family visiting. It’s just not your typical manicured mowed lawn. It’s like walking in the park.”

For more information on green funeral services, contact Leavitt Funeral Home at 304-422-6459. To learn more about Foxfield Preserve, call 330-763-1331.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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