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Want a green burial in Florida? Here’s what you need to know.

Mourners lay flowers on a body wrapped in a shroud before it is lowered into a grave at Heartwood Preserve Conservation Cemetery near Tampa, Florida.
Courtesy of Heartwood Preserve
The Miami Herald
Mourners lay flowers on a body wrapped in a shroud before it is lowered into a grave at Heartwood Preserve Conservation Cemetery near Tampa, Florida.

A growing number of people in Florida and across the country are considering “green” or “natural” burials as an alternative to traditional burials or cremation.

Green burials do away with elaborate caskets, embalming fluids, concrete vaults and tombstones. Instead, bodies are buried in simple caskets or shrouds with discrete markers — often a small metal stake — and allowed to biodegrade. The result is fewer carbon emissions than cremations and less impact on the climate.

If you’re thinking about green burial, it’s a good idea to start planning while you’re able to record your wishes to your family. There also are a limited number of cemeteries in Florida that offer green burials and not all funeral homes will know how to support one.

Make a plan and tell someone about it

The most important thing you can do is write down what you want done with your body, store that document somewhere safe and make sure your loved ones know where it is and how to access it. You can also ask a lawyer to add the wishes to a will.

To make it easier on family, you might specify which funeral home to go to, which cemetery you prefer, what type of casket or shroud you want to be buried in and who’s in charge of making that happen.

Know your cemetery options

For now, there are at least seven cemeteriesthat offer green burials in Florida.

Four are conventional cemeteries where you’ll find the mowed lawns and rows of tombstones you’d expect in a graveyard. Each of them also offers families the choice of a green burial, sometimes in a designated section of the cemetery. These are called “hybrid” cemeteries, because they offer a mix of both traditional and green burials.

Those who want a green burial at a hybrid cemetery in Florida can try the Eternal Rest Memorial Park in Dunedin, the Brooksville Cemetery Green Meadows in Brooksville, the Riverview Memorial Gardens in Cocoa or the South Florida Jewish Cemetery in Lake Worth. (Note that the South Florida Jewish Cemetery only offers Jewish burials.)

READ MORE: Meet the farmers who founded Florida’s first green burial cemetery

The remaining three green burial sites in Florida are natural burial grounds or conservation cemeteries. That means their goal is to preserve natural ecosystems. Native plants and animals roam freely and there isn’t a lawnmower in sight. Part of the point of the burial is to make sure the land never gets developed and to help pay for upkeep like controlled burns.

These three sites are Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery near Gainesville, Heartwood Preserve Conservation Cemetery near Tampa and Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve near DeFuniak Springs. Note that Heartwood Preserve is the only one of the three that can sell plots “pre-need,” which is to say, before you die.

Don't get hung up on certification status

The Green Burial Council (GBC) is a national organization that sets standards for funeral homes and cemeteries that offer green burials and issues certifications for providers that can prove their operations are up to snuff. If a funeral home or cemetery is certified by the GBC, you can be confident that it will take good care of your body and follow high standards for protecting the environment.

But industry experts say other well-run places also can handle green burials. The key is to inquire upfront.

“I’m one of the people who helped put those standards together, so I can tell you: Certification is not a requirement,” said Lee Webster, a former board member for the Green Burial Council and one of the founding members of the Conservation Burial Alliance. “I know loads and loads of cemeteries around the country and in Florida that follow those standards and don’t see the need to have a piece of paper on the wall.”

If you’re considering a green burial or conservation burial at an uncertified cemetery, the key question to ask is whether there is a conservation easement or deed restriction on the area where you’ll be buried, according to Green Burial Council president Ed Bixby. That legally prevents the cemetery owner — or anyone who buys the land in the future — from using it for some other purpose.

“If you create this deed restriction and you place it against your property, then the consumer can rest assured that you’ll never change it,” said Bixby.

In Florida, only three cemeteries — Prairie Creek, Brooksville Cemetery and the South Florida Jewish Cemetery — are GBC certified. And only five Florida funeral homes are certified by the GBC.

Quinn Haisley is a funeral director at Haisley Funeral Home in Fort Pierce, which is one of the five certified funeral homes in Florida. She says certification is “beneficial, but not necessary.”

“Any funeral home can do a little research of their own and be able to reach out to one of the green burial cemeteries for help in final disposition,” she said.

But, she added, green burial is still relatively new and not all funeral directors know how to handle it. You might have to call around to a few funeral homes in your area to find one that can help you.

This climate report is funded by Florida International University, the Knight Foundation and the David and Christina Martin Family Foundationin partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. The Miami Herald retains editorial control of all content.

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