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Environmentally Focused Burial

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Having just attended a funeral, and having seen the casket and burial up close, I’m fairly aware of the presentation side of the burial process. My grandfather died last week, and was buried within three days, the casket was closed during the funeral, but it made me wonder if the funeral directors had used any embalming solutions, or if natural processes were allowed to take their course.

The burial plot where my grandfather rests is under a great big eucalyptus tree on a gentle slope, his resting place is beautiful and a pleasant visiting place for our family. Certainly, we don’t often think much about our own death and what we would like to have done to our bodies. The furthest that most of us get is when we are filling out our legal will, which in the majority of cases doesn’t go so far as to specify embalming treatment, type of casket, clothing etc.

Green-burial movement gets more ambitious | By Gregory Dicum | Grist Magazine | Main Dish | 27 Jul 2006:

“I’d prefer to be put in the ground, under a tree,” says Joe Sehee, contemplating his inevitable demise. “But I don’t want to go in the ground with anything, I just want to be buried in a simple pine box or shroud, and that’s it.”

For me personally, my will states that I want to be cremated, which some would say is at odds with my Christian beliefs, but I’m not doing it for some pagan ritual, nor do I believe that I need to be buried whole for the fruits of my faith to be realised. I haven’t done an energy, environmental assessment of the options, but I don’t want my family to visit me in a cemetery surrounded by thousands of other reminders of the dead. I’d rather have my ashes scattered over some meaningful place, for me that would be on a mountain top or in an alpine meadow, or by a trout stream. I’d love to be buried somewhere like this, but I imagine the logistics of it are immense, and considering most of these areas are in National Parks, its not feasible anyway.

This article highlights an important groundswell movement in the States, that of eco-burials, and the idea that even with your last dying act, (literally), you can make an environmentally sustainable choice.

But according to Sehee, there’s a major obstacle: the death-care industry itself. The prevailing marketplace makes it hard for consumers — who have enough trouble picking paper or plastic — to evaluate their end-of-life options, especially if they haven’t planned ahead. A bewildering array of options, regulations, and misinformation awaits, compounded by the emotional circumstances in which such decisions are usually made.

Would this idea take hold? Will the relevant authorities embrace the stewardship of land that is suitable for eco-burial, within the two classes of Natural Burial Grounds and Conservation Burial Grounds? It would certainly be a welcome change from religion or denomination based segregation of cemeteries.

What are your thoughts?


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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.