Santa Monica’s city-owned cemetery is adding a section of plots specifically designed for environmentally friendly burials.
The development of a green burial area at Woodlawn Cemetery extends the City of Santa Monica’s efforts to promote sustainability while giving alternatives to families who are concerned about the impacts of interment on nature.
The $125,000 project recently earned Woodlawn certification from the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for the practice, making the local cemetery the second in Southern California with sanctioned green burial. The only other cemetery in the region with that distinction is Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, but decedents there must have Jewish lineage.
“With people in Santa Monica being as environmentally conscientious as they are, there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Woodlawn administrator Cindy Tomlinson said, adding that the plots are available to people who live outside the city. “We do have a waiting list, so there’s definitely interest. I feel confident that interest is out there.”
Green burial is considered a more natural method of interment that uses a wooden casket or shroud with no metal or other materials. It eschews cement vaults and typically does not involve embalming chemicals, although some families opt for environmentally friendly preservation.
“The body goes back into the earth and provides nutrients to the plant life — that’s the idea,” Tomlinson said. “It saves tons of concrete vaults, embalming fluid and all the nasty stuff that goes in with regular burial.”
Development was scheduled to start this week on the green burial area at the cemetery, which is located north of Pico Boulevard between 14th and 17th streets. Officials hope it will be finished by the end of the month.
Woodlawn officials have hired landscape designer Happy Earth LLC and contractor Mystic Water Gardens for the project, which will be known as Eternal Meadow and feature grass and drought-tolerant plants that are native to California. Families will be allowed to plant wildflowers after burial ceremonies.
Tomlinson and others believe green burials will become more popular in the near future. U.S. cemeteries each year use more than 180 million pounds of steel, 5 million pounds of copper and bronze and more than 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which includes formaldehyde, according to Mary Woodsen, a science writer at Cornell University who does outreach for the Green Burial Council.
The addition of a green burial option at Woodlawn comes about three years after Tomlinson attended an industry conference in Las Vegas, where the topic was introduced. Tomlinson has been working ever since to get the appropriate approvals and certifications for the project, which she said will come before City Council as an informational item.
The project will provide space for 450 plots as well as room for additional cremated remains. People can buy green burial space at Woodlawn in advance but won’t be able to choose specific plots because the green burials must be done sequentially, Tomlinson said.
Green burial costs at Woodlawn will come to about $13,000, compared to roughly $9,000 for a standard burial. Green burials are more expensive because larger plots are needed to keep workers from disturbing the remains of other decedents, Tomlinson said.
Woodlawn will offer a line of eco-friendly caskets and burial products. Home funeral services will also be available.
About 350 standard plots are still available at the local cemetery, which has about 65,000 decedents. Tomlinson said some Southern Californians seeking green burial services have had their loved ones’ bodies sent to Northern California, where the practice is more popular.
“It’s just catching on,” she said. “I have a feeling others will follow suit.”