GOOD

An L.A. Funeral Parlor Takes the Green Approach to Death

Two morticians are trying to change the conversation about how we are buried.

Joshua Tree Memorial Park, via youtube screencapture

When Los Angeles mortician Amber Carvaly’s good friend died unexpectedly a few years ago, she reached out to the woman’s three sisters: Would they like help preparing the body?


“It was an intimate and loving experience, and it really helped me remember why I got into this work in the first place,” Carvaly says in promotional video for her new funeral home, Undertaking LA. After that experience with her friend’s family, the mortician reached out to funeral business veteran and mortician Caitlin Doughty. Their new venture, the women decided, would handle death a little differently—more intimately and with an eye for the ecological.

The women say they hope to make families aware of the various options for the body of the deceased. Many Americans have funeral professionals embalm their bodies, hold memorials at funeral homes or religious spaces, and bury bodies in established cemeteries in expensive coffins. But in Los Angeles, the law requires few of those traditions. The body of the deceased does not to be released to a funeral home unless there is suspicion of foul play, and families are not required to embalm bodies. And as Atlas Obscura reports, bodies can be buried in simple pine boxes.

via flickr user Alyssa L. Miller

Doughty and Carvaly argue that abandoning burial conventions is actually better for the environment. An independent study by Cornell University science writer Mary Woodsen finds that American bury nearly 830,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 180.5 million pounds of steel caskets, 5.4 million pounds of copper and bronze caskets, 30 million feet of hardwood, and 3.3 billion pounds of reinforced concrete. (Note that Woodsen is also on the advisory board of the Green Burial Council.)

By contrast, Undertaking LA’s alternative natural burial service uses no preservative chemicals and biodegradable burying materials (like pine box coffins and wicker shrouds).

“There’s already a cultural shift,” Doughty told GOOD in a 2013 feature. “In the past few years there has been a radical uptick in the number of people wanting to be involved in changing the conversation about death.”

A natural burial site in Leicestershire, England

To further protect natural resources, Doughty and Carvaly have partnered with Joshua Tree Memorial Park, which hand-digs its own graves. (This takes about two to three days, compared to two to three hours for a machine-created grave.) The memorial park is right next to the expansive Joshua Tree National Park.

“The type of person who believes climate change is a serious threat to the environment is the type of person who is not going to want the dead body of a loved one to go into the ground pumped full of cancer-causing chemicals and locked in a metal casket in a big concrete vault,” Doughty told GOOD. “It’s that kind of extreme consumption that got us into the trouble we are in environmentally.”

[new_image position="standard large" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Yucca_brevifolia#/media/File:Joshua-National-Park-California0988.JPG" id="null"]Joshua Tree National Park, via wikimedia commons user Diego Delso[/new_image]

(Via Atlas Obscura)

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