Frequently Asked Questions
It's Not Easy Being Green, a humorous and detailed report written by owner, Ellen Macdonald, about some of the issues involved with Green Burials. An excellent informational piece for people considering purchasing a natural burial plot.
What is a green cemetery?
The goal of a natural burial is to return the body to the earth in a manner that allows the body to recycle naturally. It is intended as an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices that may pose future hazards to public health and run counter to modern resource-conservation activities.
How is the body prepared?
For a natural burial the body is prepared without chemical preservatives or disinfectants such as embalming fluid; whenever these fluids contain formaldehyde they can destroy the microbial decomposers necessary to break the body down. The body may be buried in a biodegradable coffin, casket, or shroud. The grave does not use a burial vault or outer burial container and is dug to a depth shallow enough to allow the same aerobic activity found in composting.
How will I know where my loved one is buried?
As in all cemeteries, there are records kept of the exact location of each interment. Each grave site can be located with GPS coordinates and compass directions.
Can I make the casket to use for a burial?
Certainly! Natural coffins are made from materials that readily biodegrade. Ideally, the materials are readily renewable or recycled. Some glues that are used, such as those that contain formaldehyde, are seen as environmentally unfriendly. While there are generally no restrictions on the type of coffin used, we encourage the use of environmentally friendly coffins made from cardboard or wicker. A simple cotton shroud is another option.
What is the difference between a casket and a coffin?
Coffins have a tapered shoulder shape, and caskets have a rectangular shape.
What exactly is a green burial?
Green burial has come to be understood as end-of-life rituals, disposition options, and products that do not involve the use of toxic chemicals or non-biodegradable materials. In other words, it’s burial that does not involve embalming with hazardous chemicals, metal caskets, and concrete burial vaults. Green burial uses less energy and creates less waste than conventional burial. It's essentially the way most of humanity cared for its dead for thousands of years up until the Civil War. In some instances, green burial can also be used to facilitate ecological restoration and landscape-level conservation.
Why would I want to be buried in a green cemetery? What are the benefits of green burial?
Some reasons to consider this burial option are:
1. Its actually “greener” than cremation. You’d be supporting the preservation of open space surrounding Austin and Bastrop.
2. It’s your most economical alternative for burial. As opposed to the typical $10-14,000 price tag for conventional funeral costs, you could get your self buried for under $3000.
3. Your friends and family can be intimately involved with your care and burial and retain control over the burial time frame and events. Your final resting place would be a natural woodland setting as opposed to a sterile manicured lawn and your last act on this earth would be one of helping the planet.
What are the hours of the burial park?
The cemetery will be open to the public from sunrise to sunset. There are no lights so it is not safe after dark.
What will guarantee the future care of the cemetery?
Although Eloise Woods is not a "Perpetual Care" cemetery, 5% of all plot sales will be held in an account to ensure future funds will be available for maintenance.
A little about Perpetual Care... According to Texas Law (Health and Safety Code 712) as of 1992 all new cemeteries must be "Perpetual Care Cemeteries," meaning that a $50,000 endowed trust fund is established and regulated by the Department of Banking. The fund ensures the maintenance of the cemetery into perpetuity.
Eloise Woods is granted an exemption under this statute due to it's being a 'community cemetery less than 10 acres'. Currently there is a deed restriction on this property which states that the land must always be used for cemetery purposes as part of the cemetery's dedication. This ensures that all future owners of this land will need to keep the land as a green cemetery.
Will there be walking areas or places to sit when visiting the burial park?
There are currently 15 different walking trails throughout the 9.4 acres. There are about 10 stone benches currently in the park along trails or nestled within gardens. In the summer of 2014, we received a grant from the Awesome Foundation for the purchase of materials to create additional stone benches for each garden. While each plot will not have its own bench, we intend for this to create many more places to sit. If you plan to be a regular visitor, keep a camp chair in the trunk of your car.
Can I dig the grave for my loved one?
Absolutely. At Eloise Woods we encourage families and friends to be as involved in the burial process as they care to be. However I must warn you that it is not as easy as you might think! Our good ole Texas soil can get very dry and packed during the summer months. The soil at Eloise Woods is called “gravel/sandy loam” but after about 1 foot it starts to get rather less sandy and more gravel/rocky. A very small opening for a little dog (2 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft) can take about an hour.
If you do want to open the grave yourself, that means digging with shovels and pickaxes. You may not bring in your own back hoe. We have a grave digger who charges $550 to open a grave.
How deep must it be?
Our graves are dug 3-3.5 feet deep depending on where the tree roots are and what type of burial container is used. According to Texas State Law Health and Safety Code a human body in a shroud (or some other “permeable” container) needs to be buried at least 24 inches under the ground. Permeable means anything water could soak through like a fabric shroud or bamboo or wicker coffin. Bodies in “impermeable containers” (wooden coffins) need to be only 18 inches under the ground. Therefore if burial is to take place using a shroud, our graves will be dug about 3 ft deep. Pets and cremains can be buried at any depth you prefer.
Can I get help if it is harder than I think?
Sure. You will probably need it unless you have a lot of people helping you. We can furnish all the digging tools, you’ll just need a series of good strong backs and arms. If you get tired we can arrange to have people on hand to finish the job, both opening and closing the grave. We hire people from the First Start Austin Day Labor Center for hand-digging graves.
What are the benefits of digging a grave for one I love?
Our families who have dug say that it is very gratifying to dig a grave for a loved one. You feel like you are helping your loved one through the process by being intimately involved. Several accounts have written that digging the grave can aid greatly in the grieving process, as it help bring the full reality of the death before you. There is no denying the fact that you are burying the person and that they really are gone. You can also save money since you wouldn’t have to pay to have the grave opened and closed. You only would need to pay for the parts you don’t want to do yourself.
Will my funeral home work with me to bring the body there?
Many Austin Area funeral homes will work with families to provide transportation. Or if you have a truck or van or any vehicle large enough to accommodate the remains, you can bring the body directly to the burial park. You will need a copy of the “Report of Death” form that is always filed within 24 hrs of a death. Families can take parts in the areas they feel comfortable with and can manage themselves.
Can I help to lower the body into the grave?
Absolutely. This act is an important aspect of many cultural traditions. Carrying the body to the graveside, lowering the body into the grave, and adding earth to the grave are all processes of burying your loved one. There are several ways of accomplishing this. Some families use a quilt to lower in the body. Others have used canvas slings or ropes.
Are cremated remains allowed to be scattered or buried?
Yes. We have a dedicated Soaring Hawk Garden for the cremated remains to be scattered/poured/spread.
May pets be buried in a plot with the master/mistress when the pet dies - either preceding or after the owner?
Of course! Once you purchase a plot, that 5’x10’ piece of earth is yours to bury as many people and/or animals as you wish to fit in there over time (leaving a 1’border around the sides). Alternatively we have a separate pet section “Rainbow Bridge Garden” for animals that prefer to hang out with other animals into eternity.
Any restrictions to the fabric the body shroud needs to be made of in order to decompose?? ie, cotton, silk, hemp etc?
Anything going into the ground (shrouds or other burial containers) should be made of natural materials which biodegrade easily. Shrouds should be made of natural fibers including cotton, linen, silk, wool, etc. Polyester, rayon and synthetic fabrics are not natural fibers.
Is there any way to level the ground after it has fully settled?
By adding more dirt! Which we will do on occasion if the ground starts to sink. We don’t want water to pool anywhere but to continue to flow down the natural slope of the land.
Do you have any information about home funerals?
Sandy Booth and Donna Belk are home funeral guides located in Austin, TX. Their Texas Home Funerals website explains everything you need to know about preparing the body and filling out the paperwork. They have links to the necessary forms. They assist families by offering educational workshops and trainings for people who want to arrange their own home and family-directed funerals. For more information contact Donna at 512-922-8043 or Sandy at 512-440-7979. Sandy also maintains a website of home funeral resources.
Address the questions of transporting remains in the State of Texas. My local JP has informed me that only a funeral director can transport.
NOT TRUE!! The law is quite clear that a funeral director is NOT required to transport a body. Please refer to this section from Texas Home Funerals website about claiming and caring for the body of the deceased in Texas.
How can we plan to visit the burial park?
Eloise Woods welcomes visitors from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. Please be aware that there are no facilities at the park. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing, no restrooms. There are restrooms 1 mile east on Pearce Lane at the Bastrop County Annex Building. And there is a Shamrock 2 miles east at the corner of Hwy 535 and Hwy 21. There are walking trail maps at the Pearce Lane gate entrance.
If no markers are allowed, how do you ensure not digging someone up to bury someone else?
We will allow flat field stones to be used as markers, just not upright headstones or crosses or anything that sticks up more than 3 inches above the ground (see Rules and Regulations of the Cemetery). All plots will be surveyed and platted using GPS. We will also mark the four corners of each plot with metal indicators. These measurements are accurate enough to locate a specific grave site. So even if there were no field stone marker we could still be able to locate precicely where someone was buried.
Can a family bring their own deceased to the cemetery if they choose?
Sure! Families can do as much as they want to from transporting their loved ones to the grave site, opening the grave, and closing the grave. Eloise Woods is practically a do-it-yourself-cemetery, with help if you need it. The only thing in the entire process that you have to pay for is the plot itself, the rest you can do on your own.
Do you work through a funeral home, or do you handle the arrangements?
Depends on what you need. If you would like the body transported to the cemetery or refrigerated, then you would need to ask a funeral home to help you with those things. We can certainly refer you to establishments that work with families but we don’t have a formal arrangement with any one funeral home.
Does this require a pre-arranged purchase, or as needed?
Either one is fine. Pre-arranging can save you some money and stress by not having to deal with details and decisions at the last minute when you’re in shock and grieving. However, we would need a 24-hr notice to have a grave site prepared.
A traditional Jewish burial is "green" be custom anyway. We bury in a shroud, use a special inexpensive pine coffin with minimal ornamentation and no metal. No embalming is permitted.
True. Jewish burial practices have always been simple, natural and earth-friendly. The difference between a Jewish burial at Eloise Woods and other cemeteries is a $2000 1.6 ton reinforced concrete burial vault. Plus the option to bury in a shroud or tallit only (no outside container) as is the tradition in Israel. Plus we encourage families to lower the body and fill in the grave which most conventional cemeteries do not allow.
Basically ANYONE is welcome to buried here regardless of their religious beliefs. We have a Jewish section called 'Teva Garden' (which means Nature in Hebrew) to serve the Jewish Community.
What the costs are for cremation?
You can visit the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas (FCA~CTX) website where under "price shop funerals" you can see a chart of all the Austin area funeral homes and compare prices.
What are the environmental effects of non-green burials?
Picture this: the amount of metal buried each year in this country is enough to build and re-build the Golden Gate Bridge. The amount of embalming fluid used each year is enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Enough reinforced concrete is buried every year to build a 2-lane road from San Francisco to Phoenix. This is not to mention all the toxic herbicides used to keep the grasses of conventional cemeteries green and weedless and flat. There are not enough zeros to guess the amount of water used to keep the grass green. 50,000 tons of hard wood, such as the endangered Mahogany, are used in caskets.
How far apart will the plots be?
There will be a 1 foot barrier around the plot so that graves won't be placed right on the edges, so there will always be at least 2 ft between graves.
Can family members leave flowers and/or plant a plant or tree there?
There are not many open areas where a new tree would grow very well. There are already hundreds of oaks on the property plus junipers, pines and yaupon, all native to Texas. Plus there is no water supply in the middle of the woods so you’d have to come up there and water whatever you plant. You can certainly leave flowers, but after a few days they’ll be taken away along with anything else left lying on the ground. Scattering of native wild flower seeds is great. See "Rules and Regulations" about planting native trees and shrubs.
Will there be mitigation from wild animals digging up the corpses, wild animals in/ around the plots and will the cemetery be accessible year-round, other than weather conditions?
We don’t anticipate animals digging up graves. There are special powders containing natural elements that we can put in the grave to cover the odors of decomposition. If animals can’t smell something enticing, they won’t dig it up. We have talked with several other green burial sites throughout the country and no one has come across this problem. Even on Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina where populations wild hogs and bears live, they have never had a problem with animals digging up graves.
What does it mean if a cemetery is Green Burial Council (GBC)certified?
See the GBC website for details of certification. Currently Eloise Woods is aiming for the 3rd highest standard. GBC certification allows consumers to be able to distinguish between the four levels of green burial ground and understand that each has a different set of standards. It requires cemetery operators commit to certain degree of transparency, accountability and third party oversight. And it prevents future owners from going back on whatever ecological or aesthetic promises have been made in the past -- from limitations on burial density that to protect a local ecosystem to prohibitions against the use of monuments that would negatively impact a view.