Green Graveyards Offer Burial Without a Trace

At EcoEternity, ashes are buried under trees in biodegradable urns.

Dec. 7, 2008 -- The wooded forests of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania are a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, or in some cases all of eternity.

Judy Vaughn and Bob Staples have purchased a space at one of the country's newest green cemeteries, the EcoEternity Forest.

"Being buried out under a tree, my ashes, biodegradable, to me that just sounded more natural, more comforting," said Vaughn.

When they die, they will be cremated and buried in a biodegradable urn, under their chosen tree, with no marker other than a small plaque.

"I just felt in a matter of a year or so we would not be taking up any space. We would actually be giving ourselves back to nature," said Staples.

With these earth friendly burials, there are no caskets, no embalming and no tombstones. Jack Lowe is the founder of EcoEternity says there are no plastic flowers or teddy bears in this remembrance but instead when you walk through an EcoEternity forest, it looks natural. So natural, that an average person can't tell where someone is buried.

Lowe has a computer model that tells him the locations, but loved ones just have to know where the remains are. Lowe says that a normal person walking around the forest wouldn't know that there is even a person buried under the trees.

Green burials are blooming. Five years ago, there was just one purely green cemetery in the United States. Now there are 20, with more on the way, and traditional cemeteries have opened up "green" sections.

Traditional burials aren't always considered so earth-friendly. Mark Harris, author of the book "Grave Matters" said, "I see the cemetery less as a bucolic resting ground for the dead. There is a landfill of largely non bio-degradable and in some instances hazardous materials."

In fact, a typical 10-acre cemetery is filled with enough wood to build more than 40 houses, contains 1,000 tons of metal from the caskets, is full of 20,000 tons of concrete from burial vaults and contains enough embalming fluid to fill a swimming pool.

Baby boomers, with their greater environmental consciousness are demanding more green options in their interment options. Coffins can now be manufactured out of cardboard or reeds, and there is a nautical option offered too. Ashes can be mixed with concrete to create ocean reefs.

But there is an added incentive for those planning ahead beyond pure environmentalism. A plot at EcoEternity can be bought for as little as $500, whereas a traditional funeral and burial can easily top $5,000.

But for Judy and Bob picking a tree at EcoEternity was about more than the financial savings.

"We both like the outdoors and this just kind of appealed to us," said Vaughn. They plan on living for many more years, but when they do go, they'll go green.