Green Burial Options


Link to Lily’s slides:

Death Certificate: Vital Stats

There are very few bonafide all green cemeteries in this area – there are many more hybrid cemeteries – and even the bonafide green have different levels of green (headstone made of rock, no headstone at all). I assume your group knows all about the Green Burial Council. GBC is a great resource in general.

In DC there are no true green cemeteries. I find the friendliest cemetery to meet a family’s wishes is Congressional Cemetery which is considered a hybrid – having a mix of green and not green. They really let families do whatever they want, shrouded with no casket, no liner, no embalming, beating drums, lowered with a rope…they are so much more laid back than any cemetery I’ve ever been too. There are no restrictions on green burial in DC as matter of law. But most cemeteries (except Congressional) will require you to purchase a grave liner or vault to support the earth. You’ll notice the grounds of Congressional are uneven, they are not perfectly manicured – that’s because the ground does not have the same support that it would at most cemeteries.

In Maryland, Bestgate Memorial Park in Annapolis has dedicated green sections.

There is a hybrid cemetery in Clarksburg, MD – Garden of Remembrance – it’s a Jewish cemetery. Traditional Jewish burial is essentially green burial. Another “green” cemetery – Judean Memorial Gardens in Olney and their sister non-Jewish cemetery next door, Norbeck Memorial Park – they have “greener” sections there, but it’s not truly green. Norbeck is a common choice for interfaith couples.

The most important thing for your group to understand is that they do not have to be embalmed. They can be buried in any cemetery without embalming and with a minimal casket (simple pine box or a woven willow casket, or even a cardboard cremation container) – but most cemeteries will require a concrete grave liner at minimum. If you request an “Orthodox” liner it will come with holes in the bottom of it so you can be in contact with the earth. You can choose a personally green burial without having the others around you “green”.

Embalming is never required at all. There are times it’s recommended (shipping human remains), but it is not required. If you wanted to have an open casket funeral in a public space, most funeral homes would be uncomfortable doing that without preserving the body. But if you’re planning something private and smaller, most funeral homes should not push back. It really depends on the person you’re dealing with. Rapp generally speaking will let a family do what it wants as long as it’s legal. There are other funeral homes and funeral directors willing to do the same. I find that most funeral homes in this area (filled with smart consumers) really do want you to be able to do what you want. I will also tell you that green does not mean less expensive unfortunately. Green cemeteries are no cheaper than others typically.

Virginia has the best green burial options in the area.

I love Cool Springs Natural Cemetery. (And I don’t understand why they aren’t listed on the Green Burial Council’s website) – it’s monk run, it’s green, beautiful. If you’re ever taking a drive out towards the Shenandoahs, go check it out.

I’ve heard wonderful things about Duck Run Natural Cemetery but have not personally been there. It’s south of Harrisonburg. There is another near Lexington, Forest Rest Natural Cemetery.

The problem with the Virginia cemeteries is that they are nowhere near DC!

While they are a few green burial options in DC, DC laws are totally tolerant of people who want to do home vigils, to keep their loved at home for a “reasonable” amount of time before burial. This is more ideal for someone who is terminal, on hospice and does not have to call the police when death comes.

Green cremation (Water instead of fire, technically called alkaline hydrolysis – warm water and lye are used to break down the body instead of fire – you are left with bone just as you would be with fire cremation). I am curious if you’ve ever heard of it and your thoughts on it.

Lily Buerkle
Mortician and Funeral Director