The environmentalism push that is spawning greener homes, cars and cleaning products has made its way to Florida's cemeteries.
Soon, Hernando County burials could be eco-friendly, too.
Jill Grabowski and Anastasia Roman, both employees of Brewer & Sons Funeral Home, have proposed a plan for 5 acres for a "green" cemetery in Brooksville.
Should the City Council approve the plans, Serenity Green will be Hernando County's first eco-friendly cemetery and Florida's third, joining others in the Panhandle and in Dunedin.
"If people are willing to drive to northwest Florida to find the services they're looking for, we're confident it will be a success here," said Barry K. Brewer, the chief executive, president and owner of Brewer & Sons. "We're positioning for the future."
The goal of green burial is to return the dead to the earth with as little interference as possible while simultaneously preserving natural habitats.
Green cemeteries require biodegradable shrouds and caskets and don't allow embalming or burial vaults. Gravestones will be optional at Serenity Green. Markers must be flat and can't be made of synthetic materials.
Without embalming, decomposition sets in immediately, so burials must happen sooner, explained Joe Sehee, executive director of the nonprofit Green Burial Council. Families often scatter seeds or plant trees over the grave.
Natural burial practices also align better with some religions, which call for burial without embalming as soon as possible after death.
"People find the thought of returning to nature comforting," Grabowski said. "It's a wild, natural burial."
As eco-conscious baby boomers grow older, retire and move to Florida, Brewer expects demand for green burials will go up. Although popular in Europe for years, the practice is relatively new in the United States: The first green cemetery opened in 1998 in South Carolina.
"This doesn't just necessarily appeal to the people who are already out there driving their Priuses and recycling," said Sehee. "Even if you weren't very green when you were on Earth, you still can be when you die."
Each year in burial vaults alone, Sehee said, the United States uses enough concrete to build a two-lane freeway from New York to Detroit and enough steel to reconstruct the Golden Gate Bridge.
Natural burial ceremonies can be conducted by a funeral home, but can also be more extreme: At one nature preserve cemetery in South Carolina, families dig an unmarked grave and bury the body themselves. They can locate it later using GPS.
If approved, Serenity Green will fall in the middle of the green burial spectrum. The cemetery would take up to 5 unused acres of land in the northeast corner of the city-owned Brooksville Cemetery, at Jasmine and Olmes roads.
Grabowski and Roman said they aren't sure how much interest there will be in natural burials, so they plan to open the cemetery in phases. The pair estimate that development and maintenance for the first plots, plus a "scatter garden" for cremations, will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
Roman and Grabowski said they will do fundraising and increase burial costs to cover those expenses instead of using Brewer & Sons funds.
"This project is our baby, but it isn't just ours," Roman said. "There's no way we can charge a fee to use a public area."
A Serenity Green plot may cost half as much as a regular plot, Grabowski said. Brewer & Sons will charge $4,995 for a standard green burial. A standard traditional burial costs $7,995.
The deluxe green burial, which includes a full-day service, woven basket casket and "tribute tree," will cost $6,995, while the most expensive standard burial costs around $15,955.
A standard green cremation will be $2,495; the deluxe, for $3,995, offers more services including a tribute tree.
"I think you'll still bring top dollar," said Richard Lewis, the council member liaison for the Brooksville Cemetery Advisory Committee, in a meeting Wednesday. "People will be willing to pay for this if it's what they want."
Grabowski works with "pre-need" customers, or those who plan for burials before death occurs. She said some have already expressed interest.
The last time a green cemetery was proposed in Hernando County, it was unanimously rejected. In 2007, the Bosnian Member Association of Istachatta proposed a 5-acre cemetery where unembalmed bodies would be wrapped in shrouds, following Bosnian tradition.
The Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously rejected the proposal, citing concerns about bacteria contamination in the local aquifer and the proposed location, which was near a residential area.
Serenity Green won't face those issues, said Pat Jobe, who works for the city of Brooksville. If the City Council approves the plan, the Brooksville Cemetery's zoning will apply to Serenity Green as well.
Critics raise the yuck factor, too. A green burial means natural decomposition, without the protection of a vault or embalming fluids.
"For the past 100 years, Americans have struggled against death's natural course," Sehee said. "This is simply a return to the beauty of an 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' burial."
Laura J. Nelson can be reached at (325) 848-1342 or email@example.com.