On the recommendation of the board of health, West Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously to amend town cemetery regulations to allow for green burials. Green burials do not involve embalming fluids, and may not even involve a coffin.
Marie-Louise Rouff, an advocate for green burials who has come before the board previously on the issue, pressed the selectmen to ensure green burials do not require concrete burial vaults.
Town administrator Jennifer Rand said the new regulations clearly state a vault isn’t required for a green burial.
Chapman, Cole and Gleason funeral director Lenny Verville later told The Times the utility of a concrete burial vault, essentially a cement box the casket is placed inside, is to prevent cave-ins. Verville said as the casket breaks down, it can suffer an implosion, and endanger people or cemetery vehicles passing by.
Rouff said she thought it was important for green burials that a “collapsible coffin” was employed.
“A casket is not required,” Rand said, reading from the regulations. “However, it must be of biodegradable material such as pine or cardboard.”
As Rouff pointed out to the board, green burials are only four feet deep (as opposed to the traditional six feet), to sustain decomposition.
Green burial markers for West Tisbury will be modest: “A stone marker not larger than 9 inches by 12, engraved with the deceased’s name, and the years of birth and death, may be placed flat to the ground at the foot of the grave.”
Verville said more and more people are asking about green burials, but actually doing it isn’t becoming much of a trend yet, in his experience. Verville, a licensed mortician, said embalming involves preservative chemicals like paraformaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde. The chemicals blunt decomposition, and make certain funeral arrangements possible, like open-casket viewing, he said. A body without embalming fluids will naturally decompose, he said, and smell like, not surprisingly, a dead body. Green burials are done 24 hours after a death, he said, and this creates quite a paper chase. Among other things, proper signatures must be rapidly secured on the death certificate.
Green burials will not only be permitted in the town cemetery but on private property, with 90 days’ notice and board of health approval, the new regulations state.