Green burials gain traction as people’s final transaction

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Steve Marcus

Managing partners Alexis and Martin McCurdy, left, and Lennette Smith, managing funeral director, pose in front of a low-temperature alkaline hydrolysis machine at Green Farewells Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. The company offers Aquamation (alkaline hydrolysis), an eco-friendly alternative to flame cremation, which uses a water and alkalai treatment to break down the body into Aquamation ashes.

Mon, Jan 15, 2024 (2 a.m.)

Death isn’t the most comfortable topic to think about, but it’s something everyone must deal with.

The rising popularity of green burials, which allow for remains to go into growing new life, may offer comfort for some more than traditional methods like cremation.

For those seeking an affordable and eco-friendly option for their departed loved ones, Green Farewells in Las Vegas offers an aquamation service.

Green Farewells has been open for business since October 23 and specializes in aquamation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis.

“And what that is, is cremation by water as opposed to cremation by fire,” says Lennette Smith, the managing funeral director. “The process is a gentle wash cycle, 95% water and 5% potassium, and it does take a lot longer than a normal cremation cycle.”

Start to finish, the aquamation process takes between 14 and 18 hours. After the wash cycle, the remains go through a warming period.

“And then we turn what is our bones leftover into cremated remains, and that is what is returned to the family,” Smith says.

This final step involves a little bit of traditional cremation, using minimal fire at the end of a primarily water-based practice. This drastic decrease of fire use is part of the business’s commitment to being eco-friendly.

Green Farewells is a carbon-neutral crematory. It cancels out its carbon output by participating in reforestation.

The company donates 25 trees for each cremation it performs. Although its primary service is aquamation, it also offers traditional cremation by fire. Tree donation is also done for fire cremations.

Cremation is especially popular in Nevada, which boasts one of the highest rates for the service in the U.S. Alexis McCurdy, managing partner at Green Farewells, attributes this to the transient nature of this region.

“So, people have moved for work, people have moved for jobs, people have moved for families,” she said. “And so you have [an] essentially distributed family that may not all be in their hometown anymore.

“A lot of our families, I would say almost all of them that we have served, have taken their loved ones on a plane with them thereafter.”

Green Farewells provides biodegradable bamboo urns that can go through TSA machines without having to be opened.

Another appealing part of cremation, McCurdy said, is the cost.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national median cost for the combined embalming and casket is $3,275, whereas the national median cost for the combined cremation and urn is $663.

Green Farewells offers its service at a cost of $1,075. Customers must factor in the additional cost of a memorial service from a third party if they want one, as Green Farewells only handles the remains.

Last year, Nevada legalized natural organic reduction, also known as human composting or “green burials.” This is a separate service from aquamation, sought by customers for similar environmental goals.

In October, green burials provider Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, found itself in legal trouble when neglected, unburied decomposing bodies were discovered in its facility, according to a report from The Guardian.

“For us in particular, it’s super unfortunate because we definitely want to spread the goodwill of green burial,” McCurdy said.

Green Farewells uses QR code technology to prevent such an incident from happening at its facility, and to provide transparency and accountability.

Each family is provided with a QR code, which they can scan with their smartphone and use to track their loved one’s remains through each step in the process of cremation.

McCurdy says she believes that everyone deserves a dignified death, just like how they deserve housing. She predicts the funeral industry will see more use of green options and what she calls “community death care.”

“So, we’re starting to see in the green movement, kind of this intermingling between caring for the Earth and caring for our people, kind of come into harmony again,” she said.

This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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