Stuart Johnson, Deseret News archives
An increasing number of people may be moving away from established traditions to funeral and burial practices.

HOLLADAY — There is a man who is well-known at City Hall in Holladay — except for his name.

His notoriety grew after he called and asked whether he could bury his wife, when she died, in his backyard.

The city employee taking the call told him "no."

That was the end of the call but the beginning of a dialogue inside City Hall that caught the attention of many, including city attorney Craig Hall.

Hall said he couldn't pin down "the basis for no," so he checked state law and county ordinances, contacted a friend in the funeral industry and even sent an online query to numerous other municipalities to find out what was on their books.

He got back nothing directly. He did discover a number of regulatory obstacles that just made it improbable to get to "yes." Legal burials require a death certificate, but the Health Department wasn't going to approve a death certificate that had "backyard" listed as the burial place, for example.

Expansive ranches may have dedicated private cemeteries, but an 8,00-square-foot lot in Holladay? "Imagine trying to sell a house that had a burial plot," Hall mused.

Holladay decided in January to pass an ordinance prohibiting burials inside the city "except in a cemetery." Cremated remains, however, are excepted.

Word of the ordinance made its way to funeral directors like Kurt Soffe, co-owner of Jenkins-Soffe Mortuaries and spokesman for the Utah Funeral Directors Association.

Soffe noted the problems with the backyard scenario but said there is a growing interest in nontraditional funerals and burials — including the placement of cremated remains, which are not regulated because they pose no threats to public health and can be buried just about anywhere, scattered, encased in jewelry and even made into keepsake diamonds.

Another trend is for "green burials." That means urns made of biodegradable clay or salt in the case of cremated remains — even biodegradable ring-shaped containers designed to be placed around a sapling where the remains nourish the young tree as it grows.

Otherwise, a green burial can include biodegradable caskets made of bamboo, sea grass or even wool. Lakeview Cemetery in Bountiful has the only green-burial area in the state: concrete vaults are not required; graves are dug by hand, not backhoe, to reduce the carbon footprint; and markers, which are optional, are uncut mountain stones.

Robert Quist, president of Memorial Cemeteries and Mortuaries, said Lakeview Cemetery has only two green burials for every 1,000 burials there each year, but he expects the diversity of people's burial interests will continue to develop. "They don't want it to be like grandma or grandpa's funeral, so we offer that option to meet people's needs."

Quist sees an increasing number of people moving away from established traditions to funeral and burial practices "that express their individuality, who they are."

Does any of that help the caller in Holladay? Hall said part of his research was conducted with the hope the man would call back. The one legal reference he did find deals with government's responsibility to help with death expenses where there is a financial hardship.

"We thought we'd hear back from him," Hall said. "We would make sure he was taken care of."

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel