New Yorkers look for environmentally friendly burials
KEENE, N.Y. (WCAX) - The number of people looking for environmentally friendly burials is on the rise. With recent legalization allowing human composting in New York, people there now have a handful of options.
Norton Cemetery in Keene is reaching capacity. With an 11-acre expansion on the way, officials plan to allow natural burials. This isn’t a new option, but it will be the only cemetery of this type in the Adirondack region.
“No casket, no concrete vaults. It’s just people wrapped in a cloth,” said Tom Both, who is on the town’s cemetery committee. “People don’t want to spend $16,000 or so on a funeral.”
Burial containers in the area are limited to non-toxic and natural materials such as wood, wool, and cardboard. The land will be allowed to grow around it, only being mowed once a year. Cemetery committee members, like Donna Reed Austin, said it’s in line with the community’s wishes to live naturally and protect the land.
The committee sent out a survey to the community asking for opinions on the cemetery expansion. Of the 146 responses, 53% wanted a green cemetery. ”The town clerk has, I think, 20 names of people interested in green burials,” said Reed Austin.
But will human remains composted through the terramation process be allowed now that new York legalized it? Micah Truman, the CEO of Washington-based company Return Home, says it could be a while before the discussion happens. Truman says it costs millions in equipment and research to build a facility capable of carrying out the process.
“There’s still a number of challenges in the New York law,” Truman said. “It’s still required, for example, a cemetery be the holder of the natural organic production facility and they’re nonprofits. They probably aren’t going to do it.”
Return Home specializes in and advocates for terramation. They service the whole country, including New York and Vermont. Truman says the minimal environmental impact of terramation is what attracts people to the process. According to Return Home’s FAQs, the process releases fewer harmful gases and avoids traditional nonbiodegradable burial materials, such as a casket.
“People want to make sure their last act on this planet is one that gives back to it,” Truman explained. He adds that since human composting became legal in New York, they’ve already had a number of people reach out about their services.
The terramation process takes 60 days. For the first 30, the body is placed in a vessel with organic material where it naturally heats and decomposes. They then grind up the bones, placing them back in the vessel for another 30 days, with the finished product being soil. “They kind of restart the cycle of life, plant a tree, plant flowers, put it wherever you wish and it makes things grow,” Truman said.
It’s also cheaper than a traditional burial. According to Bankrate, an average funeral in New York in 2021 cost $8,093. For cremated remains, that amount is slightly lower, coming to an average of $7,463. According to Truman, the cost of terramation averages $5,000.
As for the town of Keene, no one there has asked about terramation but the cemetery committee says it’s on their radar.
The only other states where human composting is legal are Washington, California, Oregon, Colorado, and Vermont, making New York the sixth in the nation.
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