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‘Green’ burials on rise

Coffin, body allowed to decompose

– More than three years after his wife’s “green” burial, Lafayette’s Tom Keiser continues to be comforted when he visits her final resting place.

Keiser’s wife, Susan, who died in September 2008 at 61, was buried in The Preserve at Spring Vale Cemetery in Lafayette – the first green cemetery in the state, according to the non-profit Green Burial Council in Santa Fe, N.M.

Today, the 1 1/2 -acre site is the final resting place for 23 people, including Susan Keiser.

“This is what Susan wanted,” Keiser said of his wife, who was a Marine veteran. “It was good closure for me and our family.”

Green burials, which are ecofriendly, have been called a movement, not a fad. Advocates say green burials protect the environment by reducing use of toxic chemicals, non-biodegradable materials and fossil fuels.

In addition, the cost of green burials can be lower because unostentatious caskets are used – sometimes no casket at all – and there is no burial vault.

The body truly goes back to the earth in a natural setting.

At Spring Vale, all green burials so far have been conducted by Hippensteel Funeral Service and Crematory, one of five Indiana funeral homes approved by the Green Burial Council.

The green burial process, although new to many, harkens back to a simpler time when people were placed in a pine box or wrapped in a shroud and placed into the ground, often without preserving the body with embalming fluids.

When the Civil War came along, formaldehyde came into widespread use to preserve soldiers for sending home for burial, according to Rich Groeber of Hahn-Groeber Funeral & Cremation Services in Lafayette.

Formaldehyde, a toxic chemical, also is a recognized carcinogen. Green burials are designed to be easy on the environment and ensure that the body naturally decomposes.

A green burial uses a casket that biodegrades completely and is held together without nails or screws or hinges. Animal glue is acceptable but not synthetic adhesives, which rules out some plywoods. Cloth bags or woven baskets also are used, depending on the material.

There are no concrete grave vaults or liners, and crematory urns of cornstarch or mulberry bark are preferred over metal or stone.

In a green burial, open caskets are possible for the visitation because non-toxic embalming fluids are used.

Green burial sites typically are planted with natural grasses and wildflowers that require little or no mechanized maintenance, and natural stones are used to mark graves.

The stone markers at The Preserve in Spring Vale Cemetery are found on site. Engravings or plaques are on the stones. Some gravesites have an American flag or a wreath.

Susan Keiser’s gravestone includes the Marine Corps insignia and the numeral one to recognize it as the first green burial at Spring Vale Cemetery.

Hippensteel was the first Indiana funeral home to be certified by the Green Burial Council.

Flanner and Buchanan funeral homes in Indianapolis also are certified.

In 2011, there were 67 burials at Spring Vale Cemetery with seven being green burials. Hippensteel has sold more than 50 green burial plots at The Preserve, including some plots to people from Chicago and Indianapolis. Joe Canaday of Hippensteel said Spring Vale is the green burial closest to Chicago.