A green way to go

What about an eco-friendly funeral? Natural burial grounds may be the way of the future

What about an eco-friendly funeral?
Natural burial grounds may be the way of the future

I love detective novels. But I never would have thought one would get me thinking about my own last rites. Amidst the murders, it opened my eyes to green funerals in the UK. I want to nurture the growth of a tree when I die, but there are very few places in Australia that offer this option. One of our writers has done some research, and I think you will find it just as interesting as I did!

By Gay Liddington

It has been said that as one grows older we attend more funerals than weddings. Each a celebration. One of a life to be lived, the other, a life lived.

In 2004, I had the privilege of acting as celebrant for my mother-in-law’s funeral service. More recently, a friend diagnosed with a terminal illness and being a woman who liked to be in charge asked if I would organise and officiate the celebration of her life.

We talked about flowers, music and eulogy. She was adamant at not wanting lilies and requested that  I Can’t Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones be played at the service. I asked if we could play it afterwards with a cuppa and cake. We laughed. She relented.

Discussing finances led us to the subject of quotes from funeral directors. It didn’t occur to us that there were options. I, like the general populous was conditioned to believe that when someone dies, you phone a funeral director and they take it from there.

Worldwide, more than 50,000,000 people pass away each year. My research indicates there is a global shift towards alternative and ‘green’ burials focusing on the use of environmentally sound products.

There are over 270 natural burial sites in the UK with new sites opening each year. In comparison, I’ve found less than 20 sites in Australia.

So, how does one plan an eco-friendly funeral?

To reduce the carbon footprint, consideration can be given, not only to the burial or cremation but to extras like venue, transportation, coffin or shroud. Traditionally, mourners have sent flowers to the family or would bring them to the service. Increasingly, there has been a swing towards making donations to a nominated charity.

Recently, I attended a life celebration where we were asked to bring a donation in the form of personal care products for women or items for the food bank.

A range of caskets that support the idea of a ‘green’ funeral reducing impact on the environment is now available. Materials include banana leaf, wicker, seagrass, rattan, pandanus, and recycled cardboard.

If cremation is your preference a biodegradable urn may be the answer or urns designed to convert you into a tree, your way to a green afterlife.

This could be coupled with a ‘no service’ cremation which is available from around $1200. Family and friends organise the celebration often held at home, in a park or community venue.

CHOICE magazine is respected for its research and the feature ‘Take control of your last rites’ enlightens the reader as to the pitfalls and options. I suggest you follow the link and read the entire article.

Do you want a sustainable farewell?

Leading academics believe that for Australians, natural burials are the most sustainable ‘way to go’. It is reported that cremations are only about 10% greener than a conventional burial – the process of cremation releases 160kg of CO2 making it a substantial pollutant. In addition, toxins released from coffins made of veneers add to the pollution.

Orthodox burials generate methane during anaerobic decomposition, which emits a potent greenhouse gas. ‘Green’ burials, however, allow for aerobic decomposition due to increased microbial activity.

When you factor in environmentally friendly materials, biodegradable substances and a shallower burial, there is the probability of less than 30kg of CO2  – plus revegetation enhances the ecological benefits.

I spoke with Casey Gardner from Home Mortuary Support Services located at Stapylton who enlightened me on some of the more complex questions regarding the law and how creative one might be when considering a green burial. She had Hairy, an ‘emotional support dog’ by her side.

Casey emphasised that it is important to have conversations about death and dying beforehand to be clear on what is preferred. Researching such matters is not desirable when one is grieving and time is of the essence.

“I see a lot of businesses saying that they’re eco-friendly but I know they’re not. It’s one of those things where there’s that grey line because there’s no rules. It’s an unregulated industry in Queensland.

“There is quite a market developing for biodegradable cloths. People can use a shroud instead of a coffin but only if it’s on a private or ‘green’ burial site. If you’re talking about burial in a regular lawn or monumental council cemetery then no – you have to have a coffin.

“If you were doing a home burial it needs to be organised well in advance according to council guidelines.”

‘Green’ burials are now an option at the Gympie Cemetery and Alberton Cemetery (northern Gold Coast). Gympie Cemetery Trust has set aside an area next to the facility’s lake for natural burials. The Gympie Cemetery Mapping System locates unmarked graves.

Casey Gardner shared that there are embalming chemicals endorsed by the Green Council of America however not so easy to access in Australia.

By law in Queensland, embalming is only required if the body is to be buried in an above-ground vault or is going to be repatriated.

“There are embalming fluids that are made completely out of plant extracts. They’re not designed to last for more than a few days and are designed for people who want to safely go home for a night or two, yet still have a green or environmentally friendly farewell.” I smiled at the idea…sort of like a night out!

It seems that ‘green’ burials and home funerals are about so much more than caring for the environment. They empower family and friends to have a hands-on approach which becomes part of the healing process.

While there is a plethora of choices and decisions to be made in the event of the transition from one life to the next, an environmentally friendly resting place among the trees supported by wildlife and a choir of birds communicates the story of a lifecycle. Or you can just become a tree…that may even bear fruit.


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