The green movement has come to the funeral industry.
Funeral directors say green burials have begun to catch on as more people opt to forego traditional cremation or embalming techniques.
Surprising to many people, those traditional techniques aren't required in most states. Some people are skipping the metal caskets, burial vaults and embalming fluids that, they say, unnecessarily fill the land with toxins and waste limited material resources.
Green burials have become more than the oddity they were 20 years ago when the first practice was established 20 years ago in western South Carolina.
And though no plans have been finalized, local funeral directors say there have been talks of establishing a green cemetery in Lawrence.
The pioneer in the green cemetery movement was Billy Campbell, who opened the first conservation burial ground in the United States, on 38 acres in South Carolina.
Campbell came up with the idea after his father's death and burial in a historic cemetery behind the family's Methodist church.
"With what we spent on the funeral, I could have bought five or 10 acres and created a more permanent memorial to him," Campbell said.
Campbell's conservation burial ground now is referred to as a stunningly beautiful stretch of woods, grassland and lush creek beds where people are buried with the simplicity of centuries past and where the proceeds go toward preserving and restoring the land.
Bart Yost, president of Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home 601 Ind., said green burials are not new. Another term for them is "direct" burials, and they are found across the nation in countryside or private cemeteries where people were not embalmed, were dressed in a favorite outfit or suit, and placed into what might have been a homemade, wooden casket.
"The Beni Israel cemetery (in Eudora) is a Jewish cemetery where people have been buried exactly the same as in a green burial since the 1870s, but for religious reasons," Yost said. "One major difference is that there would be no nonprotective liner (used for ground stability) which would aid decomposition."
Larry McElwain, co-owner of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th St., said it's important to understand what the term "green burial" means when talking about options.
"Some areas of green burials means no casket," he said, "and there needs to be further definition of what green is."
Jake Barnett, managing funeral director of Lawrence Funeral Chapel, 3821 W. Sixth St., said he thought green burials could become popular in Lawrence.
"They will definitely catch on in the Lawrence area because we have lots of liberal folks," he said.
Ultimately, he said, it's a matter of pleasing customers.
"Whatever the family wants," he said.
But others aren't so sure.
Yost said: "The funeral business hasn't changed in the last 100 years, with the exception of cremations catching on. I don't think it will much with green burials, either."
Matt Daigh, assistant funeral director with Rumsey-Yost, said his business does offer biodegradable caskets, though they have to be special-ordered and aren't in stock on a regular basis.
Travis Farwell, funeral director at Lamb-Roberts Funeral Home in Baldwin City, said his business has not had requests for biodegradable caskets.
Farwell doesn't think the use of embalming fluid should be an issue, "compared to what chemicals we put in our sewers."
He also thinks that it is important to have a viewing of the deceased (which can be done in green burials, but with some added time constraints) as a means of coming to terms with the reality of someone's death.
"Years from now, very few people will have the luxury of funerals as we now do, due to land shortages, and those who do will be looked at as royalty," he said.
McElwain and Yost both said there has been some discussions about creating a green cemetery in Lawrence. But all the funeral directors contacted for this story declined to discuss the details of the proposals, saying it was too early in the process.
While they don't think the eco-friendly burials will be a large part of their business, it may become a portion of families' requests.
"It will be popular with a segment of society who will like it, want it and work with it in a respectful way," McElwain said.