“It is death that goes down to the centre of the earth, the great burial church the earth is, and then to the curved ends of the universe, as light is said to do.” -Harold Brodkey
GREEN BURIAL (NATURAL) – DUST TO DUST
Green burial is a way of returning a body as naturally as possible to the earth. A growing number of environmentally conscious people are considering more sustainable options when planning for their deaths or for the loss of their loved ones. As an alternative to conventional burial and cremation, conservation burial conserves and restores native ecosystems through a return to natural burial methods. It’s a natural lifecycle progression, which bears no resemblance to a conventional cemetery site; instead, it is a sanctuary of natural beauty. Green burials are low impact, reducing energy & resource consumption, are less toxic, reduce carbon emissions, protect worker health and restore or preserve habitat and may include local, sustainable materials.
The body is not cremated, embalmed or buried in toxic concrete grave vault. Embalming delays decomposition, without formaldehyde to preserve the body, toxic chemicals are avoided, reducing harmful exposure both to nature and the embalmer. Instead, bodies are wrapped in a non-toxic and biodegradable materials, such as caskets, shrouds, and urns. The grave site is allowed to return to nature. The goal is complete decomposition of the body and its natural return to the soil. Protected green space becomes the final resting place. Additionally green burial ensures the land cannot be used for any other purpose therefore protecting these wild spaces from becoming a subdivision or other business development. .
The environmental benefits of green burial:
Green burials are not new. Most burials before the mid-19th century were conducted this way, as are many Jewish and Muslim burials today. The grounds of a conservation site remain forever natural and wild, with trails and paths connecting the burial grounds, open to the families and friends of the loved ones buried there. It is a place of simple, natural beauty and tranquillity, unmarred by raised markers, headstones or artificial monuments. Green burials are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, for a number of reasons:
- 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 arrangement to be simple, natural and unpretentious. Green burial allows for the natural and rapid decomposition of the body and recycling directly back to the soil
- Lower cost: Because of the simplicity of the natural burial process and minimal maintenance of the grounds, the costs of natural burial are substantially lower than conventional burial. Part of the “fee” for a burial at conservation burial ground goes towards the restoration and stewardship work at the site. Green burials do not involve embalming, fancy caskets, or concrete vaults, they can be a very cost-effective alternative to conventional burials, lowering the cost by thousands of dollars. If the family supplies their own shroud or coffin, the cost can be further reduced.
- Conserving natural resources: Conventional funerals and burials are anything but environmentally friendly. 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. Add to that the tonnes of cut flowers and carbon emissions from mourners’ vehicles.
Eliminating hazardous chemicals. For some, forgoing the embalming process is the main attraction, since embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a respiratory irritant and known carcinogen. In the Canada about 2.2 million gallons of embalming fluid are used every year, and funeral home workers are exposed to it routinely. If you think cremation reduces your carbon footprint, think again: it’s estimated a single cremation uses 92 cubic metres of natural gas – enough to supply the average Canadian home for 12.5 days – and releases 0.8 to 5.9 grams of mercury.
Preserving natural areas. Love of nature and a desire for “eternal rest” in a forever-wild meadow or forest are frequently-cited reasons for choosing green burial. The burial sites restore or preserve a natural landscape populated by native trees, shrubs and wildflowers; the sites offer food and refuge to birds and other wildlife. The most conservation-intensive green cemeteries do not use fertilizer, 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 and greens Nova Scotia. The forever-protected land is the monument to the lives of the buried.
On a local note we are delighted that the Green Burial committee, we are members of, has become a project of the Ecology Action Centre’s – Built Environment Committee.
Donate here to the GoFundMe campaign for Green Nova Scotia Burial.
A note about Cremation
Cremation has become a common alternative to burial. However, cremation is not without an impact on the environment. Crematorium furnaces combust at very high temperatures using large amounts of fossil fuels. Cremation releases dioxin, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride and other heavy metals into the atmosphere: significant carbon footprint attracting a carbon tax.
Conventional burials have an impact on the planet.
- Every year, tens of millions of funeral and burial dollars are going up in polluting smoke or in the ground in rare wood caskets that could be invested in creating new forests.
- Embalming delays decomposition by displacing blood with formaldehyde that preserves the body, but is toxic and harmful both to the embalmer and in the ground where it is interred.
- Cemeteries often use cement vaults to prevent caskets shifting in the ground as they settle in densely packed cemeteries.
- Cremation is responsible for the release of emissions including greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide as well as mercury and other heavy metals. The enormous amount of energy required to burn up a body is wasteful.
Go gently on the environment.
- A green burial is the return of a body to the earth as simply as possible. Bodies are not embalmed, but wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or placed in a simple casket and buried in protected green space.
- It’s a way of combining an eco-friendly interment with land conservation.
- Low impact green burials reduce energy and resource consumption, are less toxic, conserve water, and use only local sustainable materials.
- Our bodies, returned to the soil, through decomposition, will help create new life. The nutrients help to feed the commemorative native trees or shrubs, which in turn create a new forest or parkland. Nature lovers can rest in nature and know that in their death, they have helped to create an ecological oasis.
What counts as “green”?
A green burial is the act of returning a body as naturally as possible to the earth. To achieve this, the body not be embalmed or cremated, but instead buried in a simple casket or shroud, in a protected green space. Making the choice for green burial means you are choosing a low impact burial. It is a choice that reduces energy and resource consumption, and one that is less toxic. In addition, it ensures the land cannot be used for any other purpose. Thus, green burials can protect and conserve these wild spaces.
Are there headstones?
Many choose not to have any marker at all, but some prefer a marker, to memorialize the deceased. Natural Burial grounds only contain green markers that don’t intrude on the landscape. These green markers can include shrubs and trees, or a flat indigenous stone, which may be engraved. As in all cemeteries, there are careful records kept of every interment, and mapped with a GIS (geographic information system).
What does it cost?
A green burial is usually a less expensive option than a conventional burial. What makes a green burial different from a financial perspective, is that the costs are better allocated, with money carrying on the legacy of the deceased by protecting green space instead of the markup on expensive, unnecessary materials and procedures. Cremation is typically a cheaper option, but all of the environmental costs are not factored in.
Is it dangerous?
One of the important components of the government’s standards is an environmental assessment which will determine the suitability of any proposed site, and an official environmental determination of the capacity of the green cemetery.
Can I still be embalmed?
Because embalming significantly retards the green process of decomposition and because it introduces a variety of toxic chemicals into the cemetery, embalming is not compatible with a green cemetery. In addition, embalming has adverse consequences for the embalmer, who is exposed to noxious chemicals. There are environmentally friendlier alternatives to embalming with formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), however, these alternative chemicals still are toxic to the environment and may not be accepted in green burial sites. There are many alternative methods of preservation in order to carry out a ceremony. You may find more information here.
Is green burial legal?
Yes. Most of what may be mistaken as law are either rules of individual cemeteries or common practices assumed to be legal requirements. There is no law that a burial vault must be used, but many cemeteries require them for ease of lawn maintenance and closer spacing of graves. Embalming is only required under rare circumstances such as death from cholera.
Will animals disturb the gravesites?
No. Green burial is one of the oldest methods for eliminating the odours from decomposing organic materials. It has been shown that only 12 inches of soil is needed to prevent animals from digging into graves.
Will a green burial cemetery hurt water quality?
No. Because green cemeteries don’t have the run-off of fertilizers, spilt fuels or toxins, green burial land produces cleaner water than urban, suburban, or agricultural areas. The soil is a remarkably good filter. Products of decomposition are contained and don’t leak into the water table. The forest and meadow watershed at Penn Forest will provide safe, clean water for the Plum Creek and the Allegheny River. This is not the case with conventional cemeteries since burial vaults have drains, they do not retain toxic materials, such as formaldehyde, which flow out of the cemetery and into the watershed.
What are home funerals and home burials?
Home funerals, which allow for families to care for a decedent and all aspects of a funeral at home, were quite common in the US up until the mid-20th century. A family can facilitate a home funeral in almost every state, or do it with the assistance of a licensed funeral director. Most all GBC-approved funeral homes accommodate families wanting home funerals.
A home burial, on the other hand, is an alternative to disposition in a cemetery. It’s allowed by almost all counties, but most require a minimum number of acres and often the filing of a plat map with the planning department.
How do I create my own ground?
Cemeteries are provincially legislated in Canada, so you can start by reviewing the requirements online. Cemeteries are typically zoned as industrial use, so the property you are considering will need to have the proper zoning. Changes to zoning can be challenging, so speak to your area’s planning department early in the process. Please let us know about your efforts, as we may be able to link you up with others who are interested in supporting the cause locally.
Can burial plots be recycled?
Currently, only British Colombia offers fixed term leases on burial plots. In all other provinces, including Nova Scotia, a burial site is ‘forever’.
Types of Green Burial Grounds
- Hybrid Burial Ground, which is a conventional cemetery that allows for burial without an outer burial container (burial vault or grave liner) and allows for burial in any type of container, including a shroud.
- Green Burial Ground, which is a setting that prohibits outer burial containers (burial vaults and grave liners), prohibits the burial of bodies embalmed with toxic chemicals and prohibits burial containers made of anything other than green or plant-derived materials. In addition, Green Burial Grounds must have a pesticide-free Integrated Pest Management system, which means that pests are controlled using green and environmental practices that maintain the green ecology and landscape, rather than using chemicals that may harm the ecology and the landscape.
- Conservation Burial Ground, which has the strictest standards of the three burial grounds. In addition to meeting the requirements of the Green Burial Ground, a Conservation Burial Ground “must involve an established conservation organization that holds a conservation easement or has in place a deed restriction guaranteeing long-term stewardship” and “be owned by, or operated in conjunction with a government agency or a nonprofit conservation organization.”
What we can recommend:
- 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 as well. Pre-planning is one way to not only ensure that your loved ones know what kind of care you would like upon your passing but as well get the word out to the funeral service industry that there is demand for green burial. Funeral homes cater to the consumer’s needs and so saying what you would specifically like to happen will open up areas for discussion to make your disposition more environmentally friendly. Options may include your casket/shroud selection, no stationary or the use of recycled paper instead, no embalming or asking about greener embalming solutions, etc. all varying on you and your family’s needs.
- Consider donating land to green burial for conservation, or aid in the avocation for green burial in your province. This could simply include discussing green burial with friends and family or actively persuading local cemeteries to become more conscious of their impact on the environment.
The more people want a green burial, the more it will become available.
WHAT IS A CONVENTIONAL BURIAL?
A conventional funeral generally consists of the following elements:
- Embalming of the deceased with a formaldehyde-containing fluid
- Viewing of the deceased at a funeral home
- Service at the funeral home or a church
- Transportation of the deceased to the cemetery by the funeral home
- Conventional burial of the deceased in a cemetery with a grave liner and casket
Today, what most of us consider a conventional burial is not a traditional burial. Throughout most of human history, families and religious communities have cared for their own dead. Historically, most funerals involved burial of an unembalmed body in a simple pine box. Today, this is known as a green burial.
Conventional burial has largely supplanted traditional burial. In a conventional burial, the body is almost always embalmed and is placed in a casket that is often expensive and made from either metal or precious woods. The casket is then placed into a cement vault (often lined with a highly toxic polymer) which lines the grave. The vault will keep the ground from sinking in so that the cemetery can maintain a manicured look and be easily mowed. Conventional cemeteries also generally require large amounts of water, pesticides, and weed killer to be maintained.
For an explicit description of the embalming process, please click here.
GREEN BURIAL IN NOVA SCOTIA
There are currently no conservation burial sites in Nova Scotia. To our knowledge to date, the following are hybrid cemeteries.
Pleasant Hill Cemetery
Sunrise Park Inter-Faith Cemetery
2025 Prospect Rd, Hatchet Lake
The Burlington Kings County Cemetery Society
Barley Street, Burlington
For a more detailed listing of green burial options, in Canada, please go here.
To apply for ‘approved green burial provider’ status, please see go to GREEN BURIAL SOCIETY OF CANADA.
“All the deaths of all living things feed life; what does our death feed?
All of life’s deaths means that life continues; what does our death mean?”
-from Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson