San Diego, California

Green Funerals in San Diego

The San Diego Convention Center played host to a Going Green Symposium for the funeral industry in 2008. Jury's out on how much local good it did.

If there's not much call for green funerals in the San Diego area, it's because the concept is ill-defined and the notion not well known. No San Diego County mortuary meets green funeral standards provided by the Green Burial Council.

A major element, no embalming, is a request most funeral directors will honor -- so long as a chosen cemetery doesn't require embalming. As people decide embalming is an invasive procedure and the chemicals involved -- primarily formaldehyde -- are unpleasant for the environment, requests increase.

"I'll ask 'em," said Robert Humphrey, owner of Community Mortuary in Chula Vista. "I'll say, 'If you don't want an open-casket funeral, you don't have to embalm.' More people are opting for not doing that (embalming). But I don't think it's out of environmental concerns."

Embalming is the procedure by which decay is retarded. Not eliminated, only retarded, and only for a few days, depending on things like chemical strength and application. Humphrey said consumer demand could drive manufacturers to produce a greener embalming fluid, and, in fact, an alcohol-based fluid already exists. It isn't as effective, he said.

Beyond embalming, green sensibilities call for burial containers to be free of toxic glues, paints or other materials. Thresholds, in Lakeside, offers green caskets. Concentric Rings, in Escondido, offers biodegradable urns -- handmade of paper.

Even if you can pull together the elements of a green funeral in San Diego, you'll wind up in a cemetery that requires concrete slabs to line graves. The state doesn't require this, cemetery owners do. Concrete shores up grave walls and prevents collapse. It also lets cemetery lawns remain level.

Something of an environmentalist, Humphrey said he likes the idea of green burial, which isn't available in Southern California. He said he thinks another aspect of green funerals, containers with nontoxic glues, is "nitpicky." "Any wooden casket will do."