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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 10, 2007 5:32 AM. The previous post in this blog was Old Town ex-Port. The next post in this blog is A streak. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Monday, December 10, 2007

For when you go green, permanently

I am not making this up: Biodegradable coffins, pioneered in England, are being sold in the United States by this Portland company.

Comments (10)

Ashes are a better fertilizer and take up less prime farm land.

agreed on the ashes. Cardboard boxes have been biodegradable for years.

Even though I favor it, cremation reportedly is not green enough because it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, if you are going to kill someone to earn carbon credits, having eliminated their natural and material emissions of carbon dioxide, you must also properly dispose of the body for sure. By all means bury it deep in an industrial size paper bag using a hand shovel. And don't go to Fatburgers afterwards because you've worked up an appetite.

Let's all drink the Koolaide of Green and Sustainability. Science is not proof. It is consensus. Yes, the Nazis had a consensus didn't they?

Does the coffin biodegrade before the body or after?

I notice it says "available lined with cream..." is it whipped?

I want to be composted. One of the Scandinavian countries had a method of super-freezing then breaking a person up into small, easily composted chunks. I can't tell you how much amusement I derived out of explaining to my family members that this was how I wanted to go.

A biodegradable coffin has been available in the Pacific Northwest for some time. To answer Dave's question, in this case I think the body goes about 17 minutes before the coffin.

Hi there,

Thanks for the mention. I'm going to chime in here because this is my company and I'd love to respond to questions and thoughts.

1) as a long-term composter/natural foodie/og planting person, in the majority of cases ashes are not better fertilizer. They're highly alkaline; they alter ph balance and if scattered on green foliage, burn leaves. If buried, they're a fairly low-quality microbial dinner. Your body, on the other hand, is a 7-course meal for all the little critters that want to come after you (and the more polite ones are waiting til you vacate the premises, so lucky for you!)- Trees don't eat ashes but you - you're like a big marlin just sitting there waiting to turn into a carbon sink. It takes a tree about 3 years to reach you and really set up shop and then, lookout - you're a convert to treeland, for sure.

RE: prime farm land - Woodland burial grounds on urban growth boundaries that turn citizens into 300 year old trees, reclaim soil, build habitat, provide oxygen, sequester carbon, store water, and create revenue-generating greenspace are amazing potential tools for any urban population. Prime farm land is typically class I and maybe class II soil, and it has to be cleared and level. Natural burial sites should never go on flat, level, cleared, Class I soil (most modern cemeteries are on these, btw, as are most suburbs, so pick on suburbs before you pick on natural burial grounds, please) unless they are the only way that soil can be protected. There are too many ways to leverage a natural burial ground for the good of the community as a whole to put one on Class I ready-to-farm land.

2) It's not just the simple availability of biodegradable caskets that's at issue (and the site here was in Yakima WA, not PDX, so where are the successful local biodegradable coffin makers?) - it's the acceptance and ease of use. Biodegradable caskets used to be the norm - now they're the big exception and many cemeteries confound the biodegradation by requiring vaults and other items. Companies like Desert Light exist; they are, however, simple and straightforward in their approach, much like an organic farmer in the 70's or early 80's was. They're not out marketing, nor creating a movement, nor changing legislation - they generally don't need to resell their items, either. Most of them deal direct with the public and that's fine.

3. Whether or not the body goes first depends on the container. The Ecopod is recycled newspaper - worms love it; as long as it isn't buried too deeply, below the level of active microbes (the top needs to be no lower than 18 inches of soil, I believe, but we're checking it all out) then the pod goes first (though some decomposers like cellulose and some dig nitrogen) Cardboard coffins (which we sell either finished or available for you to decorate yourself) go next. Woven fibers decompose at different rates - the water hyacinth and pandanus is fastest; the willow a bit slower; bamboo and seagrass and the harder fibers go even more slowly still. Plywood - formaledehyde free (which we have; 2 different brands so far, and more on the way) goes next and it's much greener than solid wood because it's primarily from secondary forest product particles and breaks down rapidly. The slowest thing to decompose in the biodegradable list is a solid wood casket like the plain pine box, and it also keeps the elements and critters away from the body the longest.

A body takes approximately 12-16 months to lose almost all its flesh, organs and fatty tissue in Oregon, buried at just under the surface of the soil. A tree can eat you, bones and all, in as early as 5 years, I believe. According to Paul Stammets, mushroom guru, there are quite a few fungi who are very capable of eating bone - it's an important resource and is quickly leached from our wet soils, so we have a lot of natural systems working to reclaim the calcium. An active soil web does not give away food easily.

4) Promession is the name of the process mentioned - it's freeze drying, and it's explained more fully at one of the links I mention below.

While biodegradables have been available for a long time, my company and several others are stepping up to the plate and into the process over the next couple of years, taking this to the next level. We're rallying other companies - and funeral directors and cemeteries and citizens - and green burial grounds are being started, policies are being changed, etc. I've already been contacted by several PDX funeral homes, and we're beginning to discuss things they'd never thought of before - it reminds me of natural foods in the 80's.

It's pretty interesting stuff, really, and we find that almost no one has thought it through. For example, there are no "clean crematoria" that I know of in Oregon (and there are 60 licensed facilities) that meet EU or UK standards for emissions and energy use. There's no 'clean' mom-and-pop crematorium. Very very very big companies make crem machines; it's extremely high tech. Natural burial is straightforward, simple, and natural.

I'm an advocate of clean cremation and am looking forward to an equivalent movement in the US to install a cremator like they're setting up in Carlisle, UK (the first natural burial ground there) - reclaims energy and recycles it into the city, filters mercury, doesn't burn any synthetic materials, cleans bodies completely first, double burns, infrequent start-ups, - until they're doing this here, and until that's what you're getting if you're being cremated, you're using the old process and you may want to at least be conscious of that.

We're also outreaching to Metro - they run 14 cemeteries and we're working to find out what it will take to help make natural burial more available to Portlanders.

If anyone wants to know more and stay in the loop, just visit our website and drop us an e-mail. We'll be showing videos, having presentations on a natural end, displaying biodegradable coffins and lots of other things via our new gallery on N. Williams (near chocolate and coffee and beer at Pix and Lompoc and the Waypost)

For more info now, you can read some bits of my forthcoming book at and a lot more on our website and the pages linked there.

There's also a radio interview with me and Edison Carder on KBOO last month avail for download:

Thanks for looking at this issue, folks (and Jack!)

looking forward to seeing a couple of you at our meetings in 2008...

in compost,


Cynthia Beal
Natural Burial Company
3954 N. Williams -
opening showroom in January

unless they stop doing embalming and burying people with makeup, etc., a green coffin doesn't make much sense.

me, I want the Tibetan death ritual. and I want them to play "Free Bird" on bagpipes at the service.

Hi Gullyborg,

The Tibetans' Sky Burial is no longer as effective because the carrion bird population has suffered greatly due to the prevalence of DDT in the food-chain over there. The body parts aren't being fully eaten any longer. It's an "issue."

Also, I don't quite understand the logic you're using when you say green burial doesn't make sense unless other things are also stopped at the same time. Currently a HUGE amount of toxic and non-degradables are buried in cemeteries and burned in crematoria every year - are you saying this should continue if the embalming is also continued, and that improvement - even incremental - is useless? Seems like any lessening of the toxic burden buried in our soil and leaching into our water tables is a good idea to me.

FYI - I don't think the make-up is an extremely egregious toxic load for the microbes (though we do have sources for natural make-up!). The formalin in the embalming fluid is a negative, however, though we also have sources for - you guessed it! - natural embalming fluid! The hump is getting funeral directors to make the switch - it's hard enough just making it in most any independent business these days; try doing it when your peers are laughing at you. It take courage! Luckily a natural burial tends to beg the question about proper degradation in general, and one of our main goals is to get people thinking about something very few people have thought seriously about yet.

I like the idea of bagpipes and Free-Bird - maybe they'll be playing "DDT-Free-Bird" by then!


As a lawyer/blogger, I get
to be a member of:

In Vino Veritas

Lange, Pinot Gris 2015
Kiona, Lemberger 2014
Willamette Valley, Pinot Gris 2015
Aix, Rosé de Provence 2016
Marchigüe, Cabernet 2013
Inazío Irruzola, Getariako Txakolina Rosé 2015
Maso Canali, Pinot Grigio 2015
Campo Viejo, Rioja Reserva 2011
Kirkland, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016
Cantele, Salice Salentino Reserva 2013
Whispering Angel, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013
Avissi, Prosecco
Cleto Charli, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Vecchia Modena
Pique Poul, Rosé 2016
Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Rosé 2016
Stoller, Pinot Noir Rosé 2016
Chehalem, Inox Chardonnay 2015
The Four Graces, Pinot Gris 2015
Gascón, Colosal Red 2013
Cardwell Hill, Pinot Gris 2015
L'Ecole No. 41, Merlot 2013
Della Terra, Anonymus
Willamette Valley, Dijon Clone Chardonnay 2013
Wraith, Cabernet, Eidolon Estate 2012
Januik, Red 2015
Tomassi, Valpolicella, Rafaél, 2014
Sharecropper's Pinot Noir 2013
Helix, Pomatia Red Blend 2013
La Espera, Cabernet 2011
Campo Viejo, Rioja Reserva 2011
Villa Antinori, Toscana 2013
Locations, Spanish Red Wine
Locations, Argentinian Red Wine
La Antigua Clásico, Rioja 2011
Shatter, Grenache, Maury 2012
Argyle, Vintage Brut 2011
Abacela, Vintner's Blend #16 Abacela, Fiesta Tempranillo 2014
Benton Hill, Pinot Gris 2015
Primarius, Pinot Gris 2015
Januik, Merlot 2013
Napa Cellars, Cabernet 2013
J. Bookwalter, Protagonist 2012
LAN, Rioja Edicion Limitada 2011
Beaulieu, Cabernet, Rutherford 2009
Denada Cellars, Cabernet, Maipo Valley 2014
Marchigüe, Cabernet, Colchagua Valley 2013
Oberon, Cabernet 2014
Hedges, Red Mountain 2012
Balboa, Rose of Grenache 2015
Ontañón, Rioja Reserva 2015
Three Horse Ranch, Pinot Gris 2014
Archery Summit, Vireton Pinot Gris 2014
Nelms Road, Merlot 2013
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pinot Gris 2014
Conn Creek, Cabernet, Napa 2012
Conn Creek, Cabernet, Napa 2013
Villa Maria, Sauvignon Blanc 2015
G3, Cabernet 2013
Chateau Smith, Cabernet, Washington State 2014
Abacela, Vintner's Blend #16
Willamette Valley, Rose of Pinot Noir, Whole Clusters 2015
Albero, Bobal Rose 2015
Ca' del Baio Barbaresco Valgrande 2012
Goodfellow, Reserve Pinot Gris, Clover 2014
Lugana, San Benedetto 2014
Wente, Cabernet, Charles Wetmore 2011
La Espera, Cabernet 2011
King Estate, Pinot Gris 2015
Adelsheim, Pinot Gris 2015
Trader Joe's, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2015
La Vite Lucente, Toscana Red 2013
St. Francis, Cabernet, Sonoma 2013
Kendall-Jackson, Pinot Noir, California 2013
Beaulieu, Cabernet, Napa Valley 2013
Erath, Pinot Noir, Estate Selection 2012
Abbot's Table, Columbia Valley 2014
Intrinsic, Cabernet 2014
Oyster Bay, Pinot Noir 2010
Occhipinti, SP68 Bianco 2014
Layer Cake, Shiraz 2013
Desert Wind, Ruah 2011
WillaKenzie, Pinot Gris 2014
Abacela, Fiesta Tempranillo 2013
Des Amis, Rose 2014
Dunham, Trautina 2012
RoxyAnn, Claret 2012
Del Ri, Claret 2012
Stoppa, Emilia, Red 2004
Primarius, Pinot Noir 2013
Domaines Bunan, Bandol Rose 2015
Albero, Bobal Rose 2015
Deer Creek, Pinot Gris 2015
Beaulieu, Rutherford Cabernet 2013
Archery Summit, Vireton Pinot Gris 2014
King Estate, Pinot Gris, Backbone 2014
Oberon, Napa Cabernet 2013
Apaltagua, Envero Carmenere Gran Reserva 2013
Chateau des Arnauds, Cuvee des Capucins 2012
Nine Hats, Red 2013
Benziger, Cabernet, Sonoma 2012
Roxy Ann, Claret 2012
Januik, Merlot 2012
Conundrum, White 2013
St. Francis, Sonoma Cabernet 2012

The Occasional Book

Marc Maron - Waiting for the Punch
Phil Stanford - Rose City Vice
Kenneth R. Feinberg - What is Life Worth?
Kent Haruf - Our Souls at Night
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games
Amy Stewart - Girl Waits With Gun
Philip Roth - The Plot Against America
Norm Macdonald - Based on a True Story
Christopher Buckley - Boomsday
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way
Ruth Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray
Richard Adams - Watership Down
Claire Vaye Watkins - Gold Fame Citrus
Markus Zusak - I am the Messenger
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
James Joyce - Dubliners
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 5
At this date last year: 3
Total run in 2017: 113
In 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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