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"Green Cemetery" To Offer Natural Burials

An Auburn-based organization has proposed creating an ecologically-friendly, "green" cemetery — possibly the first in New England — in a leafy Maine town overlooking the Penobscott River.

The concept calls for 14 acres of private land comprised of fields and woods to be the site of a cemetery that would be part of a growing movement in "natural" burials, where embalming, concrete or non-biodegradable materials are not allowed.

The site's natural landscape would remain largely undisturbed, with graves marked only by simple, flat native stones. Bodies would either forgo embalming or would be embalmed with special fluids. Caskets must be made of wood or other biodegradable materials.

The idea is to let the natural landscape remain undisturbed, while providing a sanctuary for the living who come to visit.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine, which supports the project, briefed town planners last week.

"It's an environmentally friendly cemetery where everything that goes in (the ground) is biodegradable," said Richard Harriman, Orrington code enforcement officer. "That means (biodegradable) wooden caskets, and if you don't want a wooden casket, you can go in wrapped in Grandma's rug or as ashes."

Peter Neal, spokesman for the Maine Funeral Directors Association, said the proposal would create an alternative to conventional burials. Those burials often involve embalming, metal caskets and concrete or steel vaults.

"Some people prefer a (traditional) burial, and some people prefer a natural burial and some people prefer a burial at sea," he said. "This is another option."

The natural-burial movement is in its infancy in the United States, where the first green cemetery opened in South Carolina in 1996. Now there are green cemeteries in California, Florida, Texas, Washington and New York, as well.

Typically, there are three types of people who utilize green cemeteries, Mary Woodsen, board president for Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, N.Y. told the Bangor News.

"First there is the religious — Christians, Jews and Muslims who want a 'dust-to-dust' approach," she said. "Then you have your folks that just want something simple. They've always been careful with their money and don't spend a lot of money on frills."

"The third group is your baby boomers … the diehard recyclers," Woodsen said. "They just feel like it makes sense not to put tons of materials in the ground, including concrete, steel and formaldehyde."

The land in Orrington is owned by retired nurse and schoolteacher Ellen Hills, 86, who came up with the idea after reading an AARP article in July 2004.

"I said to myself, 'That's exactly what we should do with that land,'" she said.

In addition to creating a burial ground, the land her family has owned since the 1800s would be preserved, said Hills, of Solon, Me.

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