Green burial is the act of returning a body as naturally as possible to the earth. Green burials use less energy and resources, making them lower impact than conventional burials or cremation. They are also less toxic, reduce carbon emissions, and protect worker health. Certain types of green burial can even restore or preserve habitat.
For all of these reasons, and more, the Green Burial Nova Scotia working group of the Ecology Action Centre is working to raise awareness and accessibility of green burial options in our province.
Throughout most of human history, families and religious communities have cared for their own dead. Historically, most funerals involved burial of an un-embalmed body in a simple box or shroud. Today, this is known as a green burial.
There are a range of green burial options. The body is not cremated, embalmed, nor buried in a concrete grave vault. Without formaldehyde to preserve the body, toxic chemicals are avoided, reducing harmful exposure both to nature and the embalmer. Instead, bodies are wrapped in biodegradable materials. At the burial site, headstones are usually not used; instead, a native planting marks the body’s location, contributing to wildlife habitat and ecosystem restoration.
A conservation burial goes a step further, conserving and restoring native ecosystems through careful planting and a return to green burial methods which bears little resemblance to a conventional cemetery site.
Green and conservation burials are enjoying a resurgence in popularity for a number of reasons:
Lower Carbon Footprint: It’s estimated a single cremation uses as much energy as an 800 kilometer car trip (the distance of driving from Halifax to Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec). Crematorium furnaces combust at very high temperatures using large amounts of fossil fuels. The process also releases dioxin, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, mercury, and other heavy metals into the atmosphere.
Lower cost: Because of the simplicity of the green burial process and minimal maintenance of the burial grounds, the costs of green burials are often lower than conventional burials. Green burials do not involve embalming, fancy caskets, or concrete vaults. They may lower the cost of burial by thousands of dollars.
Conserving green resources: A typical cemetery buries 4,500 litres of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, 97 tonnes of steel, 2,000 tonnes of concrete and 56,000 board feet of tropical hardwood in every acre of space (source). These natural and human-made resources are all spared if a person chooses a greener burial.
Eliminating hazardous chemicals: Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a respiratory irritant, and known carcinogen. In Canada, about 2.2 million gallons of embalming fluid are used every year, and funeral home workers are exposed to it routinely.
Preserving green areas: Green burial sites restore or preserve a green landscape populated by native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers; the sites offer food and refuge to birds and other wildlife. Green cemeteries do not use fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. A green cemetery can be an important component in the acquisition and conservation of native habitats. Permanent conservation of the land with a certified land trust is possible (called a conservation burial ground).
Simplicity: The idea of wrapping the body in a shroud or placing it in a plain, unadorned coffin appeals to those who prefer their burial arrangements to be simple and green. Green burial allows for the green and rapid decomposition of the body and recycling directly back to the soil.
Green burial in Nova Scotia:
Green burials are growing in popularity worldwide, but the options in Nova Scotia are still limited. Here are five ways you can plan a greener burial in Nova Scotia:
- Approach cemeteries in your area saying you are interested in green burial and learn if there are any options which are allowed by their by-laws (or rules of the cemetery) to be more environmentally conscious. Some cemeteries, for instance, require vaults to be interred on their cemetery property, others require headstones, etc.
- Approach funeral homes in your area and let them know that there is a demand for green burial. They may have greener options for casket or shroud selection, paperless or the use of recycled paper at memorial services, no embalming, and more.
- Consider donating land to green burial for conservation, or aid in the avocation for green burial in your community.
- Help protect the environment for future generations by including a gift in your will to an environmental organization. This generous commitment supports environmental protection beyond your lifetime, and the gift you choose can also bring significant tax benefits to you now and in the future.
- While there are currently no conservation burial sites in Nova Scotia, there are a few hybrid cemeteries, which offer green options. Here are the ones we know of to-date:
- Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Lower Sackville, (902)-425-6922
- Sunrise Park Inter-Faith Cemetery, 2025 Prospect Rd, Hatchet Lake, (902)-852-4944
- The Burlington Kings County Cemetery Society, Barley Street, Burlington, (902)-538-3387
- Green Burial Society of Canada: a detailed resource on green burial options in Canada, and information on approved green burial provider status.
- Talk Death – Green Burial in Canada: a detailed listing of green burial options in Canada.
- Death Matters – Green Burials
- Learn more about our Legacy Giving program here.
- A Burial Practice that Nourishes the Planet
- A Green Goodbye
- Eco-Death Takeover
- Green Burial and Decomposing Bodies #Talkdeath
Questions? Want to get involved? Email GBNS at firstname.lastname@example.org.