Reporting Susan Koeppen
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Americans spend $12 billion on funerals each year.
Caskets, cremation, headstones – they are all familiar terms. But have you ever heard of a green burial?
It’s a trend that’s growing in popularity. In fact, Pennsylvania’s first exclusively green cemetery is located in Pittsburgh.
With its trails and trees, the 32-acre plot of land in Penn Hills is not your typical cemetery. It is part nature preserve, part final resting place.
In the meadow, Cecelia Hard has picked the spot where she will eventually be buried.
“I liked the idea of being in the sun, in a meadow, and it’s eventually going to be planted with wildflowers and I think that sounds great,” said Cecelia, a Green Burial customer. “Even though this isn’t a church cemetery, it seems a little bit more like a holy spot right there.”
Cecelia says she started thinking about where she wanted to be buried after a bout with breast cancer. She’s always been into recycling and when she discovered green burials, it seemed a perfect fit.
“No fancy coffin, just a nice linen shroud,” Cecelia says. “That strikes me as being something that would appeal to my sense of aesthetic, if nothing else.”
“It’s pretty simple really, green burial means we do as little as we can to harm the environment,” Pete McQuillin, the founder of Penn Forest Natural Burial Park, says.
Opening in 2011 as a place for eco-friendly burials, it’s the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.
“We don’t use toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde that is normally used as embalming fluid,” McQuillin says. “We don’t use burial vaults that is used in conventional cemeteries, the container that they are buried in is biodegradable.”
There are no headstones. Instead, graves are marked by river rocks, trees, plants or flowers.
As for the cost? Going green tends to be less expensive than traditional burials. Lots at Penn Forest cost between $1,800 and $2,200.
As for what eventually happens to a body buried in a green cemetery.
McQuillin says, “it decomposes, and basically, you become feed for the trees.”
The trees are what Cecelia loves most about Penn Forest. For her, choosing to be buried there is about reducing her carbon footprint.
“I’m not going to care when I’m dead, but I care now,” she says. “It matters to me while I’m living.”