3.5 ft Under? Vermont Bill Clears the Way for Green Burials

CALAIS, VT - A Vermont bill could make green burials more accessible in the Green Mountain State.

Six feet under is really just a catchphrase. "The law that is currently on the books requires that adults be buried at depth of five feet deep," said Michelle Acciavatti, End of Life Specialist at Ending Well.

A new bill moves up the burial depth to three and a half feet. It's all part of the green burial movement. "It comes from a philosophy of wanting to do a minimal amount of harm to the environment when you are buried and a maximum amount of benefit," said Acciavatti.

She says three and a half feet is the soil sweet spot where layers of nutrients lie and best break down the body. "Where you have a sufficient smell barrier on top, but you're still shallow enough in the soil to fully benefit from that microbial activity." Acciavatti says most caskets contain plastic materials and/or treated wood, but that shouldn't be an issue for people who want to directly give back to mother nature.

"These are people that are going to be interested in not having those thing, so they are going to be buried perhaps wrapped in a shroud or in an untreated, natural material."

The green burial concept is catching on. "We had a community event where we invited members of Calais to come out and talk about end of life planning," said Jennifer Whitman, who sits on the Calais Cemetery Commission.

She says the bill is about choice. The law says "at least" three and a half under, meaning those who want to be laid to rest further down can be.

"Vermont is a pretty practical, hands on. People want to be in control of their choices and are also pretty environmentally conscious," said Whitman. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene ripped open a cemetery in central Vermont unearthing some graves.

Acciavatti says natural disasters are always a risk but otherwise remains at three and a half feet deep should stay there. "It's sort of a gut reaction, a fear that we have that scavengers are going through the woods digging things up and at three and a half feet deep with the amount of soil that is on top of you, it's not a risk," says said Acciavatti.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs.


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