One of the most natural stages of life is death. But the process of burying our deceased in the United States has increasingly become more artificial, more harmful to the environment and more costly, thanks in part to the embalming process. One local funeral home is getting back to basics, though, offering “green” burials that are friendlier to the environment and more in the spirit of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services is the only company in Southern Nevada certified by the Green Burial Council, which aims to reduce the number of toxins and waste in the funeral industry while encouraging ethical and environmentally sound burial practices.
“In the olden days, death was like a part of living,” says Kraft-Sussman co-founder Laura Sussman. “Nowadays it’s become sort of a sterile kind of thing where as soon as the death takes place, the decedent is taken to the funeral home and the next time the family gets to see them is at the funeral.”
For green burials, formaldehyde-based embalming is prohibited, and caskets are made from biodegradable materials such as bamboo. In some cases, no casket is used and the deceased is wrapped in a shroud for burial. There are also biodegradable urns available to house cremated remains.
While Kraft-Sussman doesn’t usually embalm using conventional chemicals, the company can embalm using nontoxic fluids for families who want an open casket—a process that is slightly more expensive and doesn’t preserve the body as long. In order to transport bodies to other states for funeral services, Kraft-Sussman uses alternative preservation methods, such as placing the deceased within a BioSeal System, which seals and contains all hazardous gases and fluids associated with the transport, handling and storage of human remains.
“When people come into the office and we tell them that we can have a service without embalming, they’re surprised because many of the funeral homes just sort of include it,” Sussman says. “People have an option legally. In certain cases embalming is required, but in most cases it’s not. But not all the funeral homes share that information if people don’t ask.”
Green burials are growing in popularity as more people learn that the option is available, Sussman says. It doesn’t hurt that green burials are generally cheaper: The typical cost for a funeral package with a plain pine casket is just under $4,500 at Kraft-Sussman. A traditional funeral with embalming costs more than $6,000.
Sussman worked in the nonprofit industry for more than 30 years before teaming with partner Wendy Kraft, who already had worked in the funeral services industry, in March 2009. The two mothers wanted to offer families a more compassionate and personal experience in saying goodbye to their loved ones, while also remaining eco-friendly.
“It’s a conscious effort,” Sussman says. “We use recycled papers here; we recycle all the plastics and cans. Everything we do, we try to think about how it impacts the environment, and try to have the least impact possible. We just felt that it was a natural extension of who we are to offer a more green option for the families we work with.”