Environmental Trends in Burial

Canadians of all ages are trying to make their footprint on the earth smaller. In life most of us recycle and make an effort to use fewer chemicals and drive less. As we plan for death, it is not surprising that burial practices are starting to shift to accommodate a more environmentally friendly sensibility.

The elaborate caskets, headstones, flowers and the embalming fluid used in traditional funerals are slowing being scaled down in favour of a more simple and environmentally sensitive service. Fewer people are opting for the traditional in-ground casket and choosing cremation and internment in a small plot of earth or a columbarium.

Approximately 50 per cent of Canadians are cremated however, the process is less environmentally sound than we might think. Traditional cremation requires the burning of fossil fuels and may release mercury into the air from dental work. However, bio-cremation is now becoming available in Canada and the United States. Saskatchewan is the first province to allow the process which uses an alkaline liquid solution to reduce the body to ashes without emissions.

Green funerals focus on placing the body or cremated remains in a biodegradable container which will break down without harming the environment. There are urns made of rock salt, recycled paper and cornstarch as well as woven caskets make from willow, bamboo or seagrass. There are also vessels that contain seeds which will make your final resting place or your pet’s grave home to a tree of your choosing.

Going back to our roots, a truly more traditional and perhaps the most environmentally sound funeral would be to place the body, wrapped in a shroud, directly in the ground. Most cemeteries however don’t allow this practice without a vault to provide structure and prevent the grave from sinking.

In Canada there are currently four natural burial sites: Duffin Meadows Cemetery in Pickering, Ontario, Union Cemetery in Cobourg, Ontario, Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, British Columbia and Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton, Ontario.

In Calgary, Alberta, two new cemeteries will have sections for green burials where there won’t be any grave markers but instead will use GPS locators to find a burial site. The green cemeteries will be left to grow native prairie fescue.

Green Burial Practices

  • No embalming fluid
  • Biodegradable casket or urn
  • Leave a living marker such as a tree or bush rather than a quarried headstone
  • Donations or Planting rather than cut flowers
  • No cement vault or burial liner underground