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?
I would think the three biggest reasons would be 1) its actually “greener” than cremation. You’d be suppporting 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 $2000. And 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. Let me explain 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 surrently in the park along trails or nestled within gardens. We plan to put a few stone benches for each garden. Each plot will not have its own bench. 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. I just dug a very small opening for a little dog (2 ft x 2 ft and 2 ft deep) and it took me 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 $450 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 Safetly 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. I 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. So far there are 3 full-sized graves dug which are now covered up with plywood and earth.
What are the benefits of digging a grave for one I love?
I can tell you from experience 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. From several accounts I have read 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 remamis, you can bring the body driectly 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. For example Weed-Corley-Fish will provide each individual service that families choose not to do themselves. They will transport the body to the cemetery, or fill out paperwork, or refrigerate. Families can take of the parts 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. One family used a quilt to lower in the body. Others have used canvas slings or ropes.
Are cremains allowed to be scattered or buried?
Yes, cremains can be scattered/poured/spread in our "Soaring Hawk Garden". Cremains can be buried in a small 2.5' x 2.5' plot which is $110.00. $50.00 to open and close grave.
May pets be buried in a plot w/ the master/mistress when the pet dies - either preceding or after the owner?
Of course! Once you purchase a plot, that 10'x10' or 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.
I'd like there to be some information about how to take care of the body so that it's ready for a green burial, maybe links to necessary forms?
Let me introduce you to my friends Sandy Booth and Donna Belk, home funeral guides. Their Texas Home Funerals website: texashomefunerals.org 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; email@example.com. Sandy also maintains a website of home funeral resources which can be found at http://www.homefuneraldirectory.com.
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. I copied the section below from Texashomefunerals.org: It's rather long, so skip over this whole italicized section to get to the next question.
Home Funerals: Claiming the Body of the Deceased in Texas??In Texas, it is possible for “regular” people to claim the body of a deceased friend or relative; it does not have to be a funeral director or government official. This is a great relief to those who wish to care for loved ones at home, prior to the final disposition of their remains. It may be that a home funeral or wake is desired, as is frequently done in other countries, and was done in the United States in years gone by.??As interest in home funerals become more common, institutions where death occurs (hospital, hospice) may be reluctant to release the body to a family member or friend. This is usually because they are used to dealing with funeral home personnel, and may not know it is legal for others to assume responsibility for the deceased. Naturally, the institution may be concerned with legal issues.??This document contains Texas state laws from the Texas Administrative Code and the Texas Health and Safety Code that clarifies who may claim a body. There is also a form as part of this document called the “Report of Death” form which is the only item necessary to take custody of a deceased person.
Texas Administrative Code?TITLE 25: HEALTH SERVICES?PART 1: TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH?CHAPTER 181: VITAL STATISTICS?SUBCHAPTER A: MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS??RULE §181.2 Assuming Custody of Body? (a) The funeral director, or person acting as such, who first assumes custody of a dead body or fetus shall within 24 hours either mail or otherwise transmit a report of death to the local registrar of the district in which the death occurred or in which the body was found. The report of death form shall be prescribed and furnished by the Department and a copy of such report shall serve as authority to transport or bury the body or fetus within this state.?? (b) If a dead body or fetus is to be removed from this state, transported by common carrier within this state, or cremated, the funeral director, or person acting as such, shall obtain a burial-transit permit from the local registrar of the district in which the death occurred or in which the body was found. The local registrar shall not issue a burial-transit permit until a certificate of death, completed in so far as possible, has been presented (See §181.6 of this title (relating to Disinterment)). (c) The funeral director, or person acting as such, shall furnish the sexton or other person in charge of a cemetery with the information required.
HEALTH & SAFETY CODE?SUBTITLE B. DISPOSITION OF THE BODY, CHAPTER 691. ANATOMICAL BOARD OF THE STATE OF TEXAS?SUBCHAPTER B. DONATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF BODIES AND ANATOMICAL SPECIMENS. 691.024. PERSONS WHO MAY CLAIM BODY FOR BURIAL.
(a) An officer, employee, or representative of the state, of a political subdivision, or of an institution is not required to give notice or deliver a body as required by Section 691.023 if the body is claimed for burial. (b) A relative, bona fide friend, or representative of an organization to which the deceased belonged may claim the body for burial. The person in charge of the body shall release the body to the claimant without requiring payment when the person is satisfied that the claimed relationship exists. (c) A claimant alleging to be a bona fide friend or a representative of an organization to which the deceased belonged must present a written statement of the relationship under which the claimant qualifies as a bona fide friend or organization representative. (d) Texas Department of Health “Handbook on Death Registration” Report of Death Form (VS-115) Revised September 2004, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics [25 TAC '181.2 (a)]. The funeral director or person acting as such, who first assumes custody of a dead body or fetus, shall within 24 hours either mail or otherwise transmit a Report of Death to the local registrar of the district in which the death occurred or the body was found. A copy of the Report of Death form shall serve as authority to transport or bury the body within Texas.
Information about visitation to the burial park?
The Park 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 miiles 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 4 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. Saves a lot of money too. 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, last minute?
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 all I would need is 24 hr notice to have a grave site prepared. Or if you need one even quicker we will have several pre-dug sites available for immediate use (covered with plywood and a layer of soil over the plywood so no one falls in).
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?
Let me direct you to the AMBIS website where under “forms” you can see a chart of all the Austin area funeral homes and compare prices. We are just a burial ground and don’t do any cremations here.
Austin Memorial Burial & Information Society (AMBIS) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization of area residents dedicated to helping our neighbors make funeral and memorial arrangements that are dignified, meaningful and affordable. AMBIS covers the entire Central Texas area and is affiliated with the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national federation of some 110 similar societies in the United States. fcaambis.org Telephone: 512-480-0555 Office: 3710 Cedar St., Room 112; P.O. Box 4382, Austin, Texas 78765 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Usually every Mon-Wed-Fri 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but call ahead to make sure the office is staffed!
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. I don't think there are 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?
We don't have the plots already mapped out since each plot needs to be unique based on the surrounding trees. 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. Compare this with conventional cemeteries!
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 the 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 viewshed. Green Burial Council 888-966-3330, www.greenburialcouncil.org, Joe Sehee, Director email@example.com. The Green Burial Council is an independent, tax-exempt, nonprofit organization working to encourage environmentally sustainable deathcare and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas.