Lexington Planning to Offer Green Burials at Westview Cemetery

By Joy Richard, Wicked Local Lexington

The phrase ashes to ashes, dust to dust paints a portrait of death invokes one’s natural return to the Earth. But, as sensitivities around traditional burials use of chemicals have grown, some communities like Lexington and Westford are looking for greener options.

The term “green burial” may sound new, but it is a return to the historic way of laying a body to rest. It is an ecological, natural way of burying a body, which was common practice until the Civil War. At present, more than 90 percent of burials around the globe are done without embalming, metal casket, burial liner or vault. There are no traditional headstones. If there are grave markers they are typically flush with the ground and are sometimes stones found in the area of the burial.

Lexington and Westford are two of the first communities in the area to consider the move to environmental burials.

Lexington Director of Public Works David Pinsonneault confirmed that the town has been working with Green Burial Massachusetts, a statewide volunteer-run organization that provides educational programs about the value and benefits of having environmentally-friendly burials. The group initially met with town officials late last summer, and made a formal presentation in September. A proposal was approved by the Board of Selectmen, Pinsonneault said. If all goes according to plan, Lexington residents should be able to have green burials in Westview Cemetery by early summer.

The demand for green burials hasn’t been massive in Lexington, Pinsonneault said, but it is present. The draw for those in town, he said, is twofold. Green burials can be cheaper since they don’t require the typical embalming process, and the idea of doing less harm to the environment is aligned with the eco-friendly mindset of many in Lexington. The town recently passed a bylaw banning the retail use of thin plastic bags, and other restrictions on environmentally harmful materials like styrofoam could come sooner rather than later.

He expects the demand to rise once word spreads.

“It seems to be working its way into Massachusetts, a lot of people down on the Cape and South Shore are doing it,” he said. “Lexington is a very green community, it may be something that might rise in popularity once it gets underway.”

In mid December, the Westford Cemetery Commission appointed a sub-committee to help shape a proposal they will hopefully present to residents at the upcoming spring Town Meeting.

The nuts and bolts of a green burial

When it comes to the preparation of the deceased for a green burial, refrigeration, dry ice, or ice packs are used to keep the body cool if immediate burial is not possible, or desired by the family.

The body is placed in either a biodegradable container such as a pine box , a cardboard coffin, or a natural-fiber shroud, which is then placed directly into the grave. Flat memorial stone, or native plants/tree are generally used as grave site markers. Burial at 3 1/2 to 4 feet will allow for aerobic bacteria to enhance the natural decomposition process.

By Joy Richard, jrichard@wickedlocal.com

Ross Cristantiello contributed to this story. He can be reached at rcristantiello@wickedlocal.com

Lexington Planning to Offer Green Burials at Westview Cemetery
Tagged on: