Portland, Oregon

Green Funerals in Portland

Even if the Department of Environmental Quality formed 80 years after the state's first pertinent law, Oregon invented green. Known by the shorthand term "green," the idea of trying not to wreck nature altogether has long guided Oregon life. Increasingly, the notion guides Oregon death. As more Oregonians learn they have options, they choose to skip polluting the grounds to which they consign their mortal remains. They go green.

The green funeral movement took aim at formaldehyde-laden embalming fluids, nonbiodegradable coffins -- read: steel -- and toxic materials such as plastics, paints and glues that go into coffin production. (And by the way, the state of Oregon doesn't require you be buried in a container; cemeteries and crematoria usually do.) Embalming is hardly ever needed -- refrigeration does the trick -- and many funeral directors will honor family wishes to give the process a miss. Some funeral directors even ask.

Portland has providers of biodegradable coffins, containers and shrouds. In terms of carbon footprint, however, biodegradable containers originating in the United Kingdom, as many do, become problematic. In fact, many ideas connected to greening the funeral industry bear trade-offs. "It's a wash," one funeral director says. Cremation burns fossil fuels and issues emissions, although efficiency improvements have cut fuel consumption. Hardcore environmentalists decry mercury emissions from tooth fillings. (You can have those removed before cremation or burial.)

To date, the Green Burial Council, a group setting forth standards in a nascent movement has approved several Portland area providers. The Council likes Heritage Memorial Funeral and Cremations Services in Hillsboro, and gives the nod to Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service in Salem as outfits that eschew embalming and use products that won't pollute burial grounds or stay in them for centuries.