“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 working group 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 more popular 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.
“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