Great Barrington Cemetery Commission permits 'green burials'

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Great Barrington will join 18 cities and towns in Massachusetts that now permit "green burial," the practice of burial within a biodegradable casket or a simple shroud.

The process eliminates the embalming process and skips the purchase of hardwood or metal caskets and concrete or metal burial vaults.

The Cemetery Commission voted Aug. 26 to permit green burials in any plot in any town cemetery without restriction, said Ed Abrahams, commission member and Select Board vice chairman.

As part of its review process, the board heard a presentation from a representative of Green Burial Massachusetts, an organization advocating for this "traditional" burial process.

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Green burial permits the body to decompose naturally into the earth.

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Conventional burial — involving vaults, caskets and embalming — is the more common method of burial in the United States. But 90 percent of people elsewhere in the world are buried directly in the earth according to Green Burial Massachusetts. Green burial conserves resources and returns bodily nutrients to the soil.

Conventional burial can be costly and add to the earth millions of gallons of embalming fluid, thousands of tons of steel, copper and reinforced concrete, according to Green Burial Massachusetts.

Abrahams said he's been working on this project with the commission for the past three years. His own interest is personal: He is glad to know that someday he can have a green burial next to his late wife, Shelley, at Ahavath Sholom Cemetery.

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Abrahams explained that green burial requires some additional plot maintenance over time. As the body decomposes, the surrounding soil may give way by a few inches or a foot or two, requiring some reinforcement. For this reason, green burial requires an additional municipal fee of approximately $600, though the costs of a conventional casket, vault and expenses will be eliminated.

The new green burial option also meets the needs of Orthodox Jews, whose burial tradition calls for natural decomposition of the body.

"I am really excited about this; we've been working on it for about three years," Abrahams. "People have wanted to do it and now they can."


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