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The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans want to be laid to rest, with more people desiring a natural burial, according to a survey released this month by Choice Mutual Insurance Agency.
The survey found 24% of Americans had changed their burial plans this year, compared with 37% in 2021.
"This downward trend suggests that compared to last year, the country is adapting to the pandemic," wrote Anthony Martin, CEO of Choice Mutual, the nation’s largest online marketplace for burial insurance.
The Choice Mutual survey found the percentage of Americans who preferred natural burials more than doubled since 2020. Fewer people wished to be cremated, while the percentage of those preferring a traditional burial was roughly unchanged.
"Since COVID our demand has risen exponentially," says Ed Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council.
A woman and two children standing behind an open hearse. FUNERAL INDUSTRY TRYING TO HOLD THE LINE AS COSTS SOAR
Bixby told FOX Business that COVID-19 forced people to talk about death and explore end-of-life options. In the past, families often avoided such conversations, leaving decedents unaware of their loved ones' final wishes.
"That’s when a lot of decisions are made that are regretted later because you’re in the moment. You don’t know what to do if you’re not properly educated or informed," Bixby explains. He says a funeral should not leave people financially burdened or traumatized.
Ironically, funeral homes are benefiting from the shift away from cremation.
"A funeral service itself is certainly more profitable than a direct cremation, so it’s actually bringing people back to the funeral home," Bixby says.
What are natural burials? Gardner Funeral Home, Runnemede, N.J. Dec. 17, 2022. The funeral home is certified by the Green Burial Council. (FOX Business)
Gardner Funeral Home in Runnemede, N.J. is a Green Burial Council-certified funeral home. Nick Tomasello, a certified funeral service practitioner, told FOX Business the trend has been slow to catch on in his area because people there are more likely to follow family funeral traditions since they’ve lived in the region for generations.
"Out West it's becoming more and more popular," Tomasello says. "You have a lot of transplant people in that part of the country that are not necessarily set on the old traditions."
WHAT IS A FUNERAL LOAN AND HOW DO YOU GET ONE?
Natural burials are a process where a body is placed directly into the ground to decompose naturally. Bixby said a natural burial involves no embalming and uses only biodegradable burial containers or shrouds. There are no concrete vaults or upright monuments.
Such burials bring families closer to the deceased. They allow family members to care for the body as they wish, with the assistance of the funeral director, or simply participate at the gravesite through activities such as carrying a body or backfilling.
"Cremation is very quick, but the problem is you lose celebration and memorialization, and people don’t realize that until the actual process is over," Bixby says. He explains cremation is literally taking a human being directly from a hospital to a crematory. "At that point, you feel a little empty, a little hollow."
Comparing costs Greenland Cemetery, Magnolia, N.J. Dec. 17, 2022. The cemetery was established in 1848 and belongs to the Magnolia United Methodist Church. (FOX Business)
Traditional funerals cost $12,000 on average. The price of a natural burial runs between $3,000-$5,000 for the plot and funeral director. Direct cremation is the cheapest at around $1,500.
Bixby says the cost of a natural burial has not gone up as much as other funeral expenses, due to the simplicity of the service.
"Fortunately for the consumer, natural burial pricing has really not been affected all that much by the COVID pandemic," he says.
Government data shows funeral expenses rose 4.9% in November, a smaller increase than consumer prices overall, which increased 7.1% on an annual basis.
BODY COMPOSTING A 'GREEN' ALTERNATIVE TO BURIAL, CREMATION
Along with natural burials, sustainable burial alternatives include aquamation and body composting.
Aquamation, or alkaline hydrolysis, is a process that results in powdered remains that can be kept in an urn or scattered. Body composting, or "natural organic reduction," allows a body to transform into a usable, nutrient-dense soil.
Tax credits Greenland Cemetery, Magnolia, N.J. Dec. 17, 2022. The cemetery was established in 1848 and belongs to the Magnolia United Methodist Church. (FOX Business)
Victoria Haneman, a professor of trusts and estates at Creighton University, says the government should offer tax incentives for death care. She explains that federal tax incentives were instrumental in creating the U.S. solar industry.
"There’s a lot of cool, innovative death technology that we would bring to market if we weren’t dealing with an industry that doesn’t want to see it come to market," Haneman told FOX Business.
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Green burials are also environmentally friendly.
"Environmental tax credits have been proven to be extremely cost-effective incentives that often leverage substantial private sector investment as part of obtaining the benefits of the credit," Haneman wrote in the Nevada Law Journal.
More than 1.08 million Americans have died from coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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