Final Footprints | History and Facts
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The History of Natural Burial

The respectful burial of the dead has been a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. In fact, many paleontologists believe that our early human ancestors had rituals for this life passage. This reverence has been continued by faith communities for millennia. In Judaism, for example, bodies are not embalmed and coffins are constructed of wood without any metal so the body easily returns to the earth. Muslims also practice natural burial. In that tradition, the body is covered in a simple shroud and buried facing Mecca.

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Antietam Sharpsburg in Maryland

 

Until the last century, in the United States burial was handled by the person’s family or close community such as the church congregation or village council. The loved one’s body lay in state in a simple pine box in the living room or parlor so that family and neighbors could pay their respects and comfort each other in the familiar surroundings the person loved. After a community ceremony, the body was buried in the local graveyard.

 

During the Civil War, the bodies of fallen soldiers had to be transported by train to their home communities far from the battlefields. Out of necessity, the use of embalming fluids and other methods to delay decomposition of the bodies became commonplace. As a result, the modern funeral industry came into being.

 

In many parts of the country, caskets made of exotic hardwoods and precious materials, as well as impenetrable vaults of metal and concrete, replaced traditional burial practices. However, in other places, such as Steelmantown Cemetery in New Jersey, traditional natural burial has continued to be practiced since 1700.

 

People are now returning to traditional burial to protect our environment. In England there are now 270 natural burial sites, and in the United States there are now 41 sites in 26 states. Natural burial sites are un-landscaped, woodland and meadow areas where bodies are buried among the natural vegetation. Stone markers or GPS coordinates are often used to designate the graves.

 

Final Footprint is working with the Funeral Consumers Alliance and multiple environmental organizations to integrate natural burial into existing open space throughout the United States. These natural burial sites are economical, environmentally-friendly places that offer an alternative to conventional cemeteries. These sites will provide conservation habitat for generations to come.

Current Burial & Cremation Facts

Every year in the U.S. we bury:

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
  • 90,272 tons of steels in caskets and vaults
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze in casket linings
  • 30, 000,000 board feet of hardwood, including wood from endangered forests, for caskets
  • 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete burial vaults

Cremation Facts:

  • Cremation is not environmentally friendly . . .
  • The cremation of a single body requires up to 356 cubic feet of natural gas because humans are mostly water
  • Cremation produces carbon dioxide and this exacerbates climate change
  • Cremation produces sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which contribute to the formation of acid rain
  • Cremation emits dioxin, which is one of the most potent toxins known
  • Each cremation produces 1.6–8.5 grams of toxic mercury into the environment from cremated dental fillings (when buried with an entire body, fillings remain inert).

Natural Burial Facts

  • No particular type of casket or embalming will preserve the body of your loved one for an unlimited time.
  • Final Footprint caskets are a carbon-neutral solution
  • Final Footprint offers a variety of customized casket options in banana leaf, rattan, woven bamboo, and wood
  • Final Footprint is the only U.S. distributor of Ecoffins, a Fair-Trade certified line of caskets.
  • It is legal to take care of your loved one’s body in their home or yours. Many families find this comforting.
  • It is legal to transport your loved one’s body in your own vehicle from hospital, hospice, or other facility to your home, a cemetery, or a crematorium.
  • You may provide a casket of any kind (cardboard, wood, wicker, bamboo, etc.) to any funeral home free of charge, without any handling fee.
  • Funeral Homes are required to make alternative containers available for cremation.
  • According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule, embalming is not required for burial in any state “except in certain special cases” (usually interstate transport).

Sources: Mary Woodson, vice president of the Pre-Posthumous Society of Ithaca, New York reported in Mother Earth News, April/May 2003. Philip Donald Batchelder, “Dust in the Wind? The Bell Tolls for Crematory Mercury” in Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, Vol, 2, No. 1, 2008. Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rule