Green burial — a common sense approach to going beyond

It’s an idea that’s been catching on for the last quarter-century.

When you die, your loved ones will have some options for handling your remains. One of the latest is called “green burial,” and it’s actually not so new.

Green or “natural burial” is full body internment in the ground, much like early humans handled their dead. There’s no embalming. The body goes into a non-toxic, biodegradable container, such as an all-wood casket, a basket or shroud — then straight into the ground in a “natural” or “green” cemetery.

The environmental impact is minimal in that green burial reduces carbon emissions from processing bodies. And green burial cemeteries can be used for other purposes, protecting land and habitat.

Some folks here on Vashon are working with King County to explore the possibilities of locating a Green Burial cemetery here. And they have a vision. The grounds of a green burial cemetery could become a park with paths connected to other green spaces and trails.

Instead of a lawn, the foliage would be drought-resistant, natural habitat. Burial sites would be marked simply; perhaps by small natural stones engraved with some unique identifying words. A GPS system could guarantee that gravesites are identifiable over time. And the best part is that the land would be “fertilized” by the bodies as they decompose. Instead of taking up space for a cemetery, we could be creating space for life.

It’s an idea that’s been catching on for the last quarter-century. Cremation, while it saves land, also emits carbon dioxide into the air and, as it’s done in the U.S., cremation has an industrial feel. Conventional burial systems put cement and embalming fluid into the soil, and because cemeteries look like cemeteries, not parks, they are rarely used for any other purpose.

Green burial is less expensive than other existing internment types and it allows for a natural, environmentally friendly close to life.

For a community the size of Vashon, a green cemetery would need five to 10 acres of lightly forested, flat land for greater ease in digging and accessing graves. A core cemetery requirement is that the land has good drainage. It also needs easy access to roads and parking, some of which could be constructed. King County requires that land for a green cemetery be “clean,” free of high levels of arsenic.

It’s also important that neighbors surrounding the cemetery are comfortable with its proximity. Even though the “tenants” in a cemetery are quiet, their visitors aren’t always. Of course, a green cemetery should be a quiet, beautiful place, or a location that could be transformed into one.

Today’s departed Vashonians are often interred in the Vashon Island Cemetery, which has the distinction of being King County’s only public cemetery district. Our District is governed by three elected commissioners and its operation is funded by a levy of .036 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The District owns and sets all policies and is responsible for the operation of Vashon Cemetery and the historic Maury Island Cemetery. Other than maintaining the cemetery grounds, operations are managed, under contract, by Island Funeral Service — an independent funeral home managed by Lisa Devereau, which handles everything from selling burial plots to conducting burial ceremonies.

There is plenty of support for a green cemetery on the island. Our Cemetery District board wants to provide it. King County leadership supports having a natural burial cemetery on Vashon. And Island Funeral Services provides natural burials.

In addition, King County is exploring the use of Conservation Futures funds to support the Cemetery District’s acquisition of property. This would be accomplished by purchasing the development rights of the cemetery property. The cemetery would be owned and managed by the Cemetery District, and King County would hold the conservation easement on the site to restrict future development and guarantees public access.

Our Cemetery District is currently looking for land for a green cemetery that meets the aforementioned criteria. It encourages islanders to donate land they own or encourage others to donate or offer land for sale to the Island Cemetery District.

Contact Lisa Devereau at 206-799-7480 with questions and suggestions. Then we can all choose to truly “push up daisies” when we’re gone.

Lisa Devereau is the manager of Island Funeral Service and a longtime commissioner of Vashon’s Cemetary District. Sheri Reder is a strong advocate for the creation of a Green Burial cemetery on Vashon. Their commentary is part of a regular series of “Green Briefs” commentaries, provided to The Beachcomber by the Whole Vashon Project. To find out more about the work of the organization, visit