The Rebirth of Green Burials

By March Twisdale

Patricia Buchanan’s green burial was a first at the Vashon Cemetery, but not the first on our island. Long before European colonists arrived, the native people living in the Puget Sound received what we today would call a green burial. Begging the question, what exactly is a green burial?

Within the realm of traditional burials, each cemetery has its own rules. Vashon Island’s three-person board has worked to offer islanders some level of flexibility. Here are some details related to “modified” green burials.

First, there is the question of embalming. Assuming you live and die within Washington State, you have the option to be embalmed or not. Whereas, if your body crosses state lines, you must be embalmed by law, unless you receive a special exception, which is usually based upon religion. Next, there is the choice of how the body will be held or contained. Traditional burials lean toward a casket or coffin, while green burials lean toward a wicker basket or shroud. Then, there is the question of whether to include raw earth (dirt) in the burial ceremony? Several “modified green burials” at the Vashon Cemetery have included dirt in the bottom of the vault, with the edges of the vault obscured from view, creating the illusion that the deceased was being lowered directly into the earth. But they were not.

All modified green burials have one traditional burial requirement that cannot be avoided. The cement liner, or “vault” that surrounds the deceased. This box withstands the forces of gravity and time, as heavy equipment rolls over the surface, grass is mowed, stones are placed, and people walk by.

This is why Vashon Cemetery is seeking to purchase (or be gifted) additional land for dedicated green burials. As in, truly green. To qualify for burial in the new, green burial section of the Vashon Cemetery, one cannot be embalmed, nor can they use a liner or “vault.” The reason is that these two elements cause harm to the environment. Which, of course, is the whole point of a green burial – to return our bodies back to the earth in the most natural and least harmful way possible. Also, biodegradable baskets and shrouds are acceptable, but no metal caskets, and wood caskets need to be made with orthodox, wooden dowels only. No nails or screws.

On an Island with 11,000-13,000 residents, you can imagine that the 30-40 green burial cemetery plots are going, going … possibly already gone. Which means we need to step up and offer additional land for green burial dedication. One idea is to find land that fills in gaps in the Land Trust’s goal of creating walking paths across the entire Island. Another is to find land that is contiguous to the cemetery. Obviously, the land must be accessible to the public, and there are regulations related to how wet the soil can get, partly to protect watersheds and streams.

Dare I say, a view would be lovely?

If you’re interested in selling or gifting land to our Vashon Island Cemetery, please contact Lisa Devereau at 206-799-7480. The future of green burials on Vashon Island is now our responsibility.

March 7, 2023

About Author

march March Twisdale has called Vashon Island home for nearly twenty years. A lifelong advocate of independent thought, March believes there are as many right choices as there are people in the world. She looks forward to bringing inspiring content to Vashon Loop readers, as she's done for eight years with her radio show - Prose, Poetry & Purpose. Find her on by searching "Our Thoughts Matter."