Going Out Green: Growing movement toward enviro-friendly cemeter - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Midlands natural cemetery one of only 30 in U.S.

This coffin is just one of the alternatives offered by environmentally-friendly burial. This coffin is just one of the alternatives offered by environmentally-friendly burial.

For most of us, the last thing on our minds is where we want to be buried.

However, conservationists want us to think it about because there's a growing movement toward environmentally-friendly cemeteries -- places for burials that keep the natural earth in its original beauty.

Right now, there are only about 30 natural cemeteries in the country. Interestingly, the first one started in the Upstate of South Carolina.

Now there's one "open for business"  -- if you will -- right in the middle of our state. It's the Greenhaven Preserve, a natural cemetery in the woods, in Eastover.

"We just walked it, and all of a sudden we just all stopped here and said, 'You know what? This is what we like,'" said Ronnie Watts, who has purchased several plots at the preserve.

"It makes me feel good, it really does. Not that I want to go anytime soon in the next 20 or 30 years, but it does make me feel good."

Natural cemeteries are host to green or conservation burials -- that means no embalming. The process remains chemical-free. Throughout the country, it's estimated more than 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which includes formaldehyde, are used every year in cemeteries.

In natural preserves, the body can be cremated, or the body can go into the ground in a cloth. You won't find any metal caskets or vaults. If a casket is used, it has to be made of biodegradable materials, like one made of cotton or another from poplar wood.

"From just making the metal is so bad for the environment. This, you know, it goes right back to the earth, you know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," said Al Cade, operator of the preserve.

You won't find large tombstones obstructing the original view. Rather, grave markers can be shrubs, trees or a flat stone. It's basically going back to the way our families did it centuries ago.

"All your older people was buried out on their land. Under a pine tree, or under a oak tree, whatever they picked out. You know the families took care of it," said Cade.

Greenhaven Preserve covers nearly 360 acres of rolling hills, pine forests, and open waters within the Cowasee Basin. It's part of the Congaree Land Trust, so the land has to be preserved and will never be developed.

"It's quiet, you hear birds, you might even see a deer run across this property. Turkeys, the wildlife is just all over the place," said Cade.

That's just what a young USC professor, now buried at the preserve, wanted knowing of her pending death.

"The younger people are more into this green burial it seems like than the old people," said Watts. "I know nobody wants to talk about death, but we're all gonna die and, you know, it's a good thing to know what your options are."

But the concept of eco-friendly is not wasted on the older generation. One woman, just recently buried, was in her mid 90's. It's an age-old practice using today's technology: a GPS chip can be used in the burial to make it easier for loved ones to visit the gravesite.

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