Go Green: the growing trend in green burials
With the rising costs of traditional burials and cremations, an alternative form of body disposal is quickly gaining ground: green burials. As the name suggests, a “green burial” is a form of burial that seeks to minimize the impact on the local (and global) environment. The body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and contribute to new life. No embalming of the body is permitted thus eliminating the toxic chemicals that would leach out into the earth and removing the need to manage those chemicals in the earth. By using a biodegradable shroud or compostable casket, green burials create less of an impact. The body is buried directly in the ground without having to line the vault with concrete or other non-perishable material as with traditional burials.
In the past, traditional caskets (and the bodies inside them) would decay, causing the earth around and above them to subside, creating an undulating surface, which not only caused gravestones to tilt or topple but also made the grounds more difficult to maintain. As a result, burial vaults were lined with concrete, trapping the air and creating less of a disturbance to the ground above. Today, green burials allow for a small amount of subsidence. A green burial site is more of a garden or park, featuring trees and other vegetation. These grounds can be landscaped and managed more easily with less cost. Traditional headstones or markers are not allowed although the cemetery will, using GPS, carefully mark each burial site. The downside for some is that there’s no specific gravestone to visit but the upside is a green landscape to enjoy that honours everyone buried there. In some green burial sites, boulders or trees can be situated with a plaque commemorating the loved one. The owners of green burial sites also commit to preserving the ecosystem and are not allowed to re-purpose the site for future development.
With churchyards and many urban cemeteries, in particular, running out of space, green burial sites allow for the potential of re-using graves. Let’s face it, when bodies, shrouds and caskets decay, the ground can be opened and used again thus optimizing land use. However, in Canada and the U.S., many cemeteries are still based on the concept of the “perpetual right of internment”. But the Green Burial Society of Canada is advocating a change in this thinking and judging by the number of cemeteries that are listening and acknowledging public demand for the service, green burial sites are popping up in more locations. At the moment, there are seven green burial sites in Ontario. But interest is growing. Recently, a city-owned cemetery in Hamilton Ontario has indicated that it has plans to open a green burial section and has begun taking names of those interested.
So how do green burials compare in cost to a traditional burial? According to the Green Burial Society, a green burial will cost about half that of the traditional burial, placing it around the $4000 mark. But as Ellen Newman, a director on the board of the Green Burial Society, has pointed out, cemetery owners will have their own particular rules governing how “green” a burial can be. Some, she points out, won’t accept bodies wrapped in shrouds, while others still insist on a concrete vault.
So, check with your local cemetery before handing over any money. Shop around. Plan in advance and don’t leave it to your loved ones to have to negotiate with a funeral director while they’re in the midst of their grief.
Learn more about green burials from the Green Burial Society of Canada http://www.greenburialcanada.ca/greenburial
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