Living in the remote Methow Valley, we’re accustomed to not having a wide array of services available to us. For the time being, that extends to natural burial options. So what to do if you’d like to be buried close to home, but want to do so as naturally as possible?

These ideas can help make a burial greener.

Avoid Embalming

One option for making a traditional burial greener is to do away with embalming. This typically means you need to burial the individual within a few days, and/or that you might not have an open casket service.

The formaldehyde used in embalming is known to cause cancer — not a problem for the deceased, but definitely a problem for the funeral workers caring for the body. It’s also not good for the earth, and in the U.S. alone we bury over 4 million gallons of it per year.

Rethink the Casket

Many cemeteries — including the Beaver Creek Cemetery in Twisp and the Sullivan Cemetery in Winthrop — allow alternatives to a traditional casket. This can include wicker, hemp, or plain wood caskets, or no casket at all — sometimes a simple shroud around the body is acceptable.

Choosing a greener casket option will prevent the single use of materials like hardwood and steel.

Ditch the Vault

Many cemeteries require vaults, which are sealed concrete chambers contain the casket underground. Vaults serve two purposes: 1) to keep the ground level, and 2) to allow for placing graves closely together — you don’t want the adjacent grave to collapse inward when you dig a new one. (Some funeral directors will also tell you that 3) it’s to protect the casket and body, but these measures do nothing to prevent the eventual decomposition of the body.)

There is an alternative to the vault, however: a concrete liner is acceptable in some cemeteries. A liner is a concrete box that’s either completely open on the bottom or has holes on the bottom that allow drainage. Some cemeteries will even allow these to be filled with dirt, wood chips, and other organic material.

At this time, both the Beaver Creek and Sullivan cemeteries require vaults.

Transport to the Coast

Although there’s the carbon footprint of transportation to contend with, it’s very common to transport bodies around the state — and even the world. So if you don’t see what you want nearby, ask your funeral director about transporting the body to a location that does offer the services you seek.

You can also opt for water cremation out of the valley and scatter the ashes in your preferred location.

Help Us Create a Natural Burial Ground

See this page for ways to get involved.