Dying is big business in the United States to the tune of $26 billion dollars annually. Yet a growing number of people and their next of kin are seeking an alternative path to the final resting spot. Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, a privately owned 32-acre plot of old growth woods, offers its land for natural, environmentally burials—banning metal caskets, concrete vaults, and toxic embalming fluids. Because it functions as a cemetery as well as a nature preserve, it is protected from future development, thus preserving open space and wildlife habitat as well as providing an alternative to modern cemetery burial.
At Ramsey preserve, the woods are unmanicured and the wildflowers bloom and die with the seasons. Burials are limited to 100 per acre compared to 1,000 per acre in a modern cemetery. Many families choose to bury their loved ones in untreated cardboard, a wooden box, or no box at all. The dirt removed from the grave site is carefully extracted so that the soil profile is retained for replacement. Graves are marked by stones from the property, laid flat on the burial site, or sometimes the graves are left unmarked.
This simple approach to burial is a far cry from what goes into modern graves each year, including 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 104,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, and 30 million board feet of precious hardwoods. The price also differs significantly. Science & Spirit reports that a no-frills cemetery burial runs about $6,000, while the cost at Ramsey Creek is about $2,500.
Ramsey Creek opened in 1996 and has since been followed by similar burial preserves that strive to provide a beautiful natural park for the living as well as a resting place for those who want the same thing in death. In Florida’s panhandle, Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve is a 350-acre longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem and in Marin County, Calif., Forever Enterprises offers 16 pristine acres on a 40-acre site for natural, low-density burial.
By achieving land preservation as well as meeting a market demand for greener burials, these new memorial preserves could usher in a whole new approach to death for the funeral industry.
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