Los Angeles (Orange County), California

Green Funerals in Los Angeles

Whether you consider yourself part of a movement or part of a faction, choosing biodegradable materials with which to surround yourself for final repose is at the moment called going green. Only three South Orange County mortuaries, in Irvine, Laguna Hills and San Juan Capistrano, have been certified as offering green funerals by the Green Burial Council. The Council is the New Mexico-based organization that has set standards for the meaning of green.

The basic approach is 100 percent biodegradable materials. Attempting to make minimal environmental impact marks a shift from embalming fluids and metal caskets so familiar in traditional funerals. Green can be cheaper, too. Out are metal caskets in favor of cardboard, fiberboard or uncoated woods. In are water-based glues. Gone are plastic handles made to look like metal. Out are contaminants such as the formaldehyde, methanol and ethanol used in embalming fluid.

Adherents of the green movement not only object to embalming, which they see as invasive, they aren't amused by annually burying tons of resources in the form of steel or hardwoods as caskets. They think it's wasteful.

The three OC mortuaries are part of a 100-year-old, family-owned business run by fourth-generation chief executive Neil O'Connor.

"All it really means is no formaldehyde, no embalming fluid in the body -- just refrigeration -- and products that are not metal," O'Connor said. "The challenge we face locally is finding a green burial cemetery. If a family does want a green service with no embalming and wood casket, we can do that. But the cemetery is going to require the concrete vault. From the local cemeteries I'm working with, I'm not aware of one that doesn't require the vault."

Concrete vaults line graves to support the ground, keep it level and allow the uses to which cemeteries put it, such as multiple burials per grave.

"Green is very much in the infancy stages," O'Connor said. "The challenge we talk about is are we going to have a cemetery offer the service. We don't know if it will be two years or 20."

Showing itself as not too old to get hip at 102, venerable all-things-funeral institution Forest Lawn in mid-October rolled out a line of environmentally friendly products that lets customers choose green funerals. Forest Lawn now sells caskets made of sustainable woods constructed with water-based glues and without animal products, stains or plastics. The company's General Price List indicates that embalming is not required unless a family wants a funeral with viewing or visitation. Like so many others in the area, Forest Lawn cemeteries will not give up vaults anytime soon.