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    Local News
    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Going ’green’ at local burial ground

    Hanover Cemetery Association Sexton Jen Benson, left, and Treasurer Joan Ryan. After measuring the precise location for the sign, which was created by Glenn Cheney, Frank Foley utilized a tractor and auger to dig the holes and install it.

    Imagine departing the planet in an eco-friendly way like people did up until the 1840s and being able to bury your small pet alongside you in your cemetery plot situated in a meadow.

    A quarter-of-an-acre, back green section of Hanover Cemetery on Potash Hill Road in Sprague established in June called Hanover Green Burial Ground offers just that. It is one of five in Connecticut and the only one in eastern Connecticut that is open to everyone. The Lebanon Green Burial Ground is accessible only to town residents.

    The six-member Hanover Cemetery Association board first considered a green cemetery after an informational meeting in May with Glenn Cheney, who founded Connecticut Green Burial Grounds with Elizabeth Foley, Angelynn Meya and Nicholas Fulton.

    Even though Hanover Cemetery Association Treasurer Joan Ryan said during a telephone interview that she wasn’t “on board” at first, the more Cheney talked, the more she “liked the idea that it was back to nature” and eliminated many hidden, traditional funeral expenses, including a coffin and vault.

    Also, by “just mowing once a year, the green cemetery is going to take on a meadow effect eventually. There’ll be wildflowers and birds. It will be very tranquil and inviting to come and visit,” she said.

    Headstones are not allowed at the Hanover Green Burial Ground, but engraved, natural, flat rocks from the area are permitted.

    After doing a lot of research about green burials and the interest in it, Hanover Cemetery Association Sexton Jen Benson said during a joint telephone interview, “It’s better for the environment.”

    “You’re not embalming anybody” in a green cemetery and gases are not being released from cement vaults, because they are not used, she said. Since people are buried in plain, biodegradable wooden/wicker caskets without metal fasteners or covered with an organic shroud or sheet, Benson said, “It’s just totally natural. It’s just a good option for people who are looking to preserve the environment. I think you have to be open-minded and you have to kind of look into these new options and then go with it, because it’s what people are looking for.”

    The Connecticut Casket Company in South Windham offers biodegradable caskets, according to its website. A simple Google search will bring up many out-of-state companies as well.

    Cremated ashes are permitted at the Hanover Green Burial Ground, as long as they are in a biodegradable box.

    “Cremation is not really eco-friendly,” because the process requires burning 28 gallons of fuel, Cheney said during a telephone interview. “It’s not as unfriendly as embalming, but it’s not positive and it’s slightly negative.”

    “It used to be everyone would be buried in the ground. Now, from the sexton’s point of view at the cemetery, there are more cremations than there are direct burials,” Benson said. “Now people are so concerned with the environment with good reason,” she said referring to gases released from concrete vaults and embalming fluid in people’s bodies. “It’s funny how it reverts back to the original way before” caskets, she said.

    “Green burial is safe. Soil is an excellent filter and with few exceptions (Ebola, rabies, maybe one or two more) all human pathogens are quickly rendered benign upon the death of their host,” said Foley in an email.

    The Hanover native and registered nurse who now lives in Hamden added, “There is an elaborate thanato-microbiome that quickly goes about repurposing our remains for organic means. There is no known detriment to ground water; there are no reports of animals disrupting burial sites even at the shallower depth of 3-4 feet. The soil itself becomes prime, nitrogen rich compost within a year and a memorial planting, or tree, could be richly supported by the remains.”

    Creating a biodegradable coffin or shroud (cotton, linen, or other material) for someone “could be a loving closure,” suggested Cheney, a Sprague selectman, Norwich Times writer, and author of the book, “The Merry Burial Compendium.”

    As a self-described environmentalist, he said “green burials just make total sense to me. I don’t know why anybody would do anything else.”

    Modern cemeteries are “toxic waste dumps,” because formaldehyde, a carcinogen used to embalm people, lasts forever, Cheney said. “Eventually it can get into the water.”

    People who purchase six plots have the option to plant a tree of their choice, Ryan said. “They will also be maintaining that tree because this is their plot of real estate.”

    Cheney said people should be aware that if they want a green burial, they should buy a plot and “make sure that when their big day comes that their loved ones can go to the funeral director and say, ‘We want a green burial,’ because they might not even offer it. They might not even know it’s an option.”

    As of mid-July, six 5-by-12-foot plots had been purchased. In the future, Hanover Green Burial Ground has space to expand its quarter-of-an-acre section, Benson said.

    Even though more deceased people are being cremated now, she said they’re still selling “quite a few plots” for loved ones’ ashes, as well “direct burials.

    Benson said she likes “giving people options” and that “it’s good for the cemetery and it’s also good for the person.”

    Asked if green burial grounds are a growing phenomenon, Ryan said she thinks “more and more people will choose green, but it will be a while, probably two decades.”

    Benson agreed, adding that she thinks the younger generation is “going to want green burials more,” because it’s natural and environmentally friendly.

    “Combining the complimentary movement of land conservation with green burial answers the concerns about land usage,” Foley said. “Cemeteries are a legally binding form of land conservation that is almost impossible to reverse. Adding to that the sequestration of carbon and reforestation potential, it should be a win-win for like-minded environmental groups.”

    For more information about Hanover Green Burial Ground, contact Hanover Cemetery Association Sexton Jen Benson by email at jbenson@99main.com, or call her at (860) 428-7818. For more information about green burials, including facts and myths, as well as locations around the state, go to ctgreenburial.org.

    Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.

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