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Live (and Die) Green: The growing trend of green burial

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sw_sumnercemeterygrave_cs4369Oak Park’s Jane Zawadowski wants to start a green cemetery. The pursuit of a green cemetery in Illinois began in May of last year, when Zawadowski and her family decided to make a will and trust. She pulled out an article she had saved for years on funerals at home, and after reading it, she came to the conclusion that a home visitation and all other natural things for her after death were completely consistent with her personality.

“The consumer will have their need for a ‘green’ lifestyle fulfilled, even after their official ‘life’ as we know it has ended,” Zawadowski says. “It is the continuity of an ecologically based life, and completes the circle of life. People who are ‘land-based’ feel a deep need for connection with the earth and view their bodies upon death as the ultimate gift back to the earth.”

More people are moving toward the new trend of eco-friendly or “natural” burials in recent years. According to a 2007 AARP survey, twenty-one percent reported that they would be “very interested” or “interested” in a burial that is more environmentally friendly than the traditional burial that involves embalming. But Mark Harris, environmentalist, journalist and author of “Grave Matters: A Journey through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial,” says the interest has doubled in the past year. He cites a Kates-Boylston survey that found forty-three percent of Americans were now interested in green burial.

These burials are the opposite of traditional burials, where the corpse is embalmed with formaldehyde and then placed in a steel or wooden casket for viewing. After the funeral, the casket is lowered into a concrete vault and buried. Green burials involve no embalming, no plastic-coated caskets or cement vaults and no chemical lawn treatments. Once underground and covered by tons of dirt, there is no opportunity for the casket to become a mini-landfill of non-biodegradable waste.

Eco-friendly burials are less costly than traditional burials. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a traditional funeral is $7,500, plus cemetery costs. Natural burials can cost up to $4,000. Zawadowski is currently educating possible partners about her desire, about what green cemeteries are, and engaging in conversations with many allies and interested parties.

“To be clear, this effort is a combination of a business venture but also a spiritual quest,” Zawadowski says. “I am driven by the need to create transformation, enable change, make art and educate and connect community.”

The cemetery will be more than a sacred place, but a place for all types of gatherings and ceremonial events. “Gatherings such as weddings, family reunions, camping and picnicking are examples of other uses of the land.” Zawadowski says. “There will be an environmentally friendly gathering space adjoining a kitchen space.”

Most of all, the emotional investment of where a final resting place should be is an important factor. “People who visit their loved ones seek spaces that comfort them, and this cemetery will be life-affirming and nourishing of the body and soul of visitors,” Zawadowski says. “Traditions may be begun or continued with this cemetery that will be fulfilling for entire families and multiple generations.” (Kenshata Harris)

If you’re interested in contacting Jane Zawadowski, you can reach her at

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