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What Now?

We have fully legalized green burial in Vermont, but we still have a long way to go before green burial is fully accessible to all Vermonters.

Read about what’s happening with green burial, 18 days after Act 19 was enacted, in this Seven Days Article: Three and a Half Feet Under: Cemeteries Are Wary of Green Burials

And yes, it’s true- Michelle Acciavatti and Carl Anderson, whom many of you met on the educational tour, along with Ron Slabaugh, Jennifer Whitman, Jeri Helen Belisle, Kerstin Lipke, Diane Raza Butler, and Jim Holman have come together to form Green Burial Vermont, an education non-profit with the mission to promote environmentally and socially conscious burial practices in Vermont. When we’re ready to launch (in early fall) we’ll send out one last message to the email list. We hope most of you will continue to follow us there. Greenburialvermont.org and email greenburialvermont@gmail.com

An educated public is the way that green burial will face the obstacles facing it. Don’t be afraid to share what you know and what you want with your family, friends, and cemetery commission! Green Burial Vermont will be offering workshops and resources for cemeteries, communities, and individuals.

Why does depth matter?

Who cares about green burial?

Do you try and make environmentally conscious choices in your life? Are you aware of the impact the resources we use have on our air, water, and soil? Are you concerned about protecting the planet for future generations? Would you like your final act to be buried in accordance with the ethics and values by which you lived? Then YOU care about green burial. This revitalized practice can safeguard soil, water, and air by avoiding the chemicals associated with conventional burial. Unlike cremation, no fossil fuels are burned and no greenhouse gasses are emitted.

What is green burial?

Green burial is being buried in such a way so as to minimize the environmental harms of burial while at the same time benefiting the environment. This type of burial is used at over 150 cemeteries in 38 States and The District of Columbia, as well as Canada, The United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. It started in the U.S. nearly 30 years ago.

Don’t we already have green burial Vermont?

Sort of. Embalming is never required by law and some cemetery commissioners are willing to forgo vaults and adjust their land management practices. Many people are beginning to choose to be buried in natural, biodegradable coffins instead of caskets. All these things are important for minimizing the harms caused by conventional burial, but because of required burial depth of at least 5 feet the benefit to the environment is still significantly limited.

How can green burial more effectively benefit the environment?

By burying bodies at 3.5 feet! This makes sure the body is in the active layer of the soil where a combination of oxygen, heat, insects, and microorganism allow for rapid aerobic decomposition and the efficient recycling of the body’s nutrients into the surrounding environment where they are used as food by plants and trees.

Green burial sites are often used to conserve and protect habitats. The rich soil created by green burial is being used to restore prairie grass in the Midwest and protect and rehabilitate forests- including the Black Forest in Germany, one of the last “old growth forests” in the world.

Here in Vermont green burial cemeteries could be used to restore pollinator habitat by being the site of a wildflower meadow in a green section of your town cemetery. Or it could be used to protect our woodlands through the creation of designated non-profit run conservation cemeteries. In these, bodies interspersed with trees would not only enrich the soil and trees, but protect the land from development while still being open for agricultural, recreational, and educational use.

Additionally, Vermont has a high seasonal water table so allowing people to be buried at 3.5 feet reduces the risk of groundwater contamination from bodies.

Won’t my body be dug up by scavengers if it is only 3.5 feet deep?

No. A burial at that depth ensures a sufficient amount of soil on top of the body to create a smell barrier that means there is no risk of scavengers disturbing the grave. Scavengers are opportunistic feeders and there is plenty for them to eat without having to dig that deep for it. Scavenger activity has not been a problem at any green burial site.

Why did the the law have to change?

Prior to July, 2017 Vermont law required that adult bodies be buried at least 5 feet deep. Even unembalmed and in an all natural, biodegradable coffin, at that depth the rate of decomposition slows dramatically, and the recycling of elements into the soil is not as efficient due to the biologically and chemically impoverished soil conditions. Vermont is one of only three states to have a required minimum burial depth law, and one of only two with a depth that prohibited environmentally efficient green burial. This is not a new burial practice in Vermont, however, as Vermont law already allows for children to be buried at a depth of at least 3.5 feet.

What was Bill H.3?

Bill H.3 changed the required minimum burial depth to at least 3.5 feet. At this depth a body can be rapidly broken down through aerobic decomposition into elements that can easily recycled into the environment to benefit the soil and plants around it. Bill H.3 completes the 2015 Natural Burial Ground Act which established green burial as a legal practice in Vermont. This bill would grant people the option to be buried in the most environmentally beneficial way possible. It would not take away any other forms of burial already legal in Vermont or remove any of the protective statues or cemetery autonomy.

Bill H.3 was passed unanimously by the Vermont House and Senate and was signed into law effective July 1, 2017. Bill H.3 has the support of The Green Burial Council, a national educational and certifying non-profit.

How can I learn more about green burial?

Visit greenburialvermont.org or email greenburialvermont@gmail.com

How to help Bill H.3

  • Email Your Representatives (updated scripts below)
  • Read our Facts Sheet
  • Come to one of our informational events (schedule below) or schedule one in your community
  • Sign a Letter of Support (see below)
  • Participate in our testimonial flyer campaign (see below)

EMAILING YOUR REPRESENTATIVES

Script for Contacting Vermont Representatives about Bill H.3

Thank you for being willing to contact your Vermont Representatives about Bill H.3. Below is a basic script for help in composing your email. This is the second time the House has had the chance to vote on Bill H.3 so the script has been updated. State Legislators do not have direct phone lines, but you can find their email addresses at: http://legislature.vermont.gov/people/search/2018

Remember: These scripts are just suggestions. The more you can personalize your message, the more effective it will be! Feel free to elaborate on why the bill is important to you (examples: I want a green burial, I want all Vermonters to have the option of a green burial, or I think it is important that our burial practices benefit the environment). Please sign your email with your full name and address so that your State Senator knows you are a voting constituent.

When contacting your Representatives use this basic template and be sure to incorporate at least some of the points below.

“Bill H.3, to change the required minimum burial depth to at least 3.5 feet, is returning to the House after unanimously passing in The Senate. The House General Committee unanimously voted to accept the Senate Amendment.  Bill H.3 is important to me. As your constituent, I hope I can count on your support.”

  • Bill H.3 provides the option for people to be buried in the most environmentally efficient way possible by placing the body in the active layers of the soil where it can decompose rapidly and its elements can be used as nutrients by the surrounding environment without the risk of being disturbed by scavengers.
  • This bill completes Act 25 (2015’s Natural Burial Ground Act) by allowing for environmentally efficient green burials, which maximizes the ecological benefits of burial for those who wish their burial to have a positive impact on the environment.
  • Vermont is one of only three states to have a required minimum burial depth, and one of only two that prohibits the option of environmentally efficient green burials. 32 states have no burial death legislation at all.
  • Raising the required minimum burial depth to at least 3.5 feet does not introduce new burial practices to Vermont, rather it eliminates the discrepancy between the minimum burial depth for children and adults.
  • Burial at 3.5 feet is in accordance with the standard set by the Green Burial Council nearly 30 years ago. Graves at this depth are not a risk for disturbance by scavengers.Thirty-eight states and Washington DC have green burial cemeteries that allow interment at this depth.
  • Raising the required minimum depth to at least 3.5 feet helps protect groundwater by keeping bodies out of the seasonal high water table, protects and creates habitats such as woodlands and pollinator meadows, and allows people to choose a burial option that is in accordance with their values.
  • This bill does not remove any of the safeguards regarding cemeteries or burial, or the autonomy of individual cemetery commissions to decide whether or not to offer this option in their cemeteries.
  • In the Senate an amendment was added to make it perfectly clear that raising the required minimum burial depth does not take away the option for people to be buried in another manner.
  • The House General Committee, which has heard all the testimony related to H.3, unanimously accepted the Senate amendment. It had previously unanimously supported the bill as written when it went to the House Floor the first time and passed by an overwhelming majority, and recommends the House concur with the Senate in this final vote.
  • As your constituent I hope I can count of you to vote yes on Bill H.3 and make green burial an option for all Vermonters.

EVENTS

“Green Burial and The Vermont Law” These events will feature the screening of a 20 minute documentary about green burial, followed by a brief presentation about green burial and the bill to change the mandatory minimum burial depth and discussion. Hosted by End of Life Specialist and Green Burial Advocate, Michelle Acciavatti and Wildlife Biologist and Green Burial Advocate Carl Anderson

Upcoming dates are listed below. For a list of previous events please check Do you want an event in your community? We’ll come back even if we’ve been to your community before, as long as you can guarantee at least 10 people will be there. So far we’ve reached over 100 people at these events and we plan to keep going.

April, TBD, Morrill Memorial and Harris Library, 220 Justin Morrill Memorial Highway, Strafford, VT

April, TBD, Barton Public Library, 100 Church Street, Barton, VT

…..More Locations and Dates to come. Please read this post if you’d like us to have an event in your community!

LETTER OF SUPPORT- please sign with your name and city/town name and email to vermontgreenburial@gmail.com

As a Vermonter I feel it is important to live in an environmentally conscious way. Green burial is a way that a person’s environmental values can continue to be honored even after they die. I believe everyone should be able to choose a green burial, whether it be on their own land, in a designated natural burial ground, or their local cemetery.

Because of this belief I support changing the burial depth from at least 5 feet for adults to at least 3.5 feet deep, as it already is for children. This guarantees the maximum environmental benefit from green burial. I ask that my State Senators hear and respect my voice and pass Bill H.3 so that this type of green burial is an option in Vermont.

Thank you.

Testimonial Flyer Campaign

Answer one of the questions below and email your answer, along with a scanned copy of the release form with your name, town, and (optional) age, and a jpeg of a picture of yourself from the shoulders up and we’ll do the rest. Our goal is to hang these flyers all over the state and generate some curiosity, enthusiasm, and support for changing the mandatory minimum burial depth

Answer at least one of the following questions with a few sentences:

What does green burial mean to me?

I think green burial is important because:

I think all Vermonters should be able to choose whether or not they want a green burial because:

Name:

Town:

Age (optional):

Scan and email this release:

I consent to having my name, location, and statements used along with my likeness to promote awareness about green burial

yes/no

signature:

Email your answer along with a jpeg photo of your from the shoulders up to vermontgreenburial@gmail.com (cellphone photos are fine)