Portland shop offers eco-friendly burial options

Portland shop offers eco-friendly burial options »Play Video
PORTLAND, Ore. -- When her time comes, Cynthia Beal wants to make a green exit.

She doesn't want a sturdy coffin or even a head stone.

"I would love to have an Oregon cherry tree planted over me," she said. "And I want it to be turned in to musical instruments and bowls."

And Beal hopes others will follow suit. Beal launched the Natural Burial Company in north Portland and now sells hand-made renewable coffins called "eco-pods."

Some eco-pods resemble an over-sized picnic basket while others, at least in appearance, resemble a coffin made of a much sturdier material.

"It's just like heavy duty papier-mache. It's completely biodegradable so this breaks down in the Earth really quickly," she said.

Beal even offers what she calls "cradle," a padded cotton quilt bag that serves as a coffin.

Beal says the eco-pods are the natural next-step for those who've led an eco-friendly life, including herself.

"I spent a lot of time and money trying to live a sustainable life eating natural foods, and doing natural things. And it just didn't make sense to me that I was going to draw a line before I died," she said.

And the idea is spreading. Andrea Wyatt, a third-generation funeral home director, is taking Mount Scott Funeral Home into the new century by adding eco-friendly options.

"(I want) to try to let people choose something that means a lot to them, especially if they're recycling in their home and making those types of choices, we want them to be able to take that choice all the way to the end of their lives," she said.

Valley Memorial Park is one of the first cemeteries in the Northwest to designate a greener resting place by forgoing headstones and instead opting for memorial trees and rocks.

"They're all different. Nothing's going to be the same; everything's personal," said David Schroeder with the cemetery.

Schroeder says no traditional coffin or urn will ever be buried at Valley Memorial; the lots will be reserved for only biodegradable burials.

Cemeteries like the idea of going green. With no chemicals, synthetic metals or plastic decomposing on their lots, the land can be reused for generations to come.

With two million funerals taking place each year, the industry earns $11 billion. With baby boomers aging, the number is growing along with the demand for green burials.

"Green isn't a fad, green isn't an ideal, green isn't a fantasy fairytale in the sky. Green is sustainable because sustainable works over the long run," said Beal. "This is our Earth that we're passing on to our children. And there's a lot of things we can do to reduce our footprint."