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Sally Fischer is green to the extreme.

The Drake senior intends to undergo a green burial when she dies, a process that places the body into a wooden or biodegradable casket rather than a cement burial vault. Fischer became interested in green burials while writing a research paper on the contamination of ground water.

“I believe that once you die, your body is simply a body,” Sally Fischer said in an e-mail interview to The Times-Delphic. “It isn’t a person anymore.”

A traditional funeral is usually a combination of a visitation and a funeral ceremony, followed by a casket placed into a concrete burial vault. The burial vault practice began shortly after World War II. Blair Overton, funeral director for Overton Family Funeral Homes in Des Moines, said that these concrete vaults can weigh up to 3,000 pounds.

“[Burial vaults] serve two purposes,” Overton said. “One is to protect the casket. Many people view the vault as what protects mom or dad… it’s what protects my person I buried there, my loved ones.”

The second, more practical function of the vault is to protect the surface of the cemetery from depressions that form when a biodegradable casket breaks down, possibly creating a washboard effect.

“One of the arguments I make a lot with people about the cemetery is that is really is a nature preserve,” Overton said. “If you go through town and you see a big green space with trees and things in nature, a lot of times it is a cemetery.”

Overton said that Brooks funeral home offers three options: a traditional burial, cremation and a green burial. In Iowa, burials are still mostly traditional, with cremation as the second highest method of burial.

Fischer said she has received some strange reactions to her views.

“I’ve talked to my family about it, and they found it odd that I wanted to be buried green,” Fischer said. “I don’t think they see my point of view on the matter.”

Both Fischer and Overton said the cost benefits of a green burial are notable, since a cheaper casket can be purchased and the price of embalmment drops to zero.

“No embalming fluids are used, which makes the practice better for the environment,” Fischer said. “Putting all those chemicals into the ground could cause public health issues down the road.”

Overton said that people who desire green burials should select an existing cemetery with spots specially set aside. He said it was possible to bury a loved one in a personal property plot but said practitioners could face potential legal issues when their descendants decided to sell the land.

“A cemetery provides the continuity to our ancestry,” Overton said. “And America does that with our cemeteries. So with green burials, I think we should try to keep the same traditions in that manner.”

Overton said Overton Family Funeral Homes have recently been looking into doing more green burials, and have even found a beautiful cemetery that serves the purpose well. Still, he isn’t sure if the interest is strong enough.

“We have a beautiful area that’s kind of secluded from the town and everything else,” Overton said. “You go back there and it’s over a bluff — it’s like you’ve left the city.”
Fischer is committed to her cause.

“I might as well do something that will help the earth,” she said.


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