8 January 2014
My Green Burial Wish
I remember my first visit to a cemetery.
I was 14 years old when my school class visited the local cemetery for a religious excursion. I remember coming home with very clear ideas of what I didn’t want if I were to die and shared these with my family that evening, over dinner of course.
I didn’t want a large gravestone that could crack, a gate that would rust or statues of any kind. I quite liked the manicured lawn section of the cemetery, but donating my organs and being cremated was more appealing. My father, visibly uncomfortable with the topic, quickly put a stop to the conversation and that was the end of the story at the time.
Since then, I haven’t given much more thought to my final resting place, with the exception of deciding that cremation was my preferred option. Only recently, after visiting the graves of my husband's grandparents while on holiday in Victoria have I again considered options for my body after my departure.
As an environmentalist, I find the notion of everyone having their own permanent shrine outdated, particularly as the worldwide human population soars. While it’s lovely for relatives to have a location where they can pay their respects to deceased loved ones, the sheer number of neglected headstones in our cemeteries shows that this is only relevant for a generation or two.
The emergence of green or eco-cemeteries in recent years indicates there are growing numbers of people who wish to have minimal impact on this earth while alive AND after they depart.
Environmentally friendly burial services, termed “natural burials”, have grown in popularity since their inception in the UK in 1993 (the year after my school class visited our local cemetery). In a natural burial, the deceased is prepared without the use of embalming fluids or chemical preservatives, which are used to slow the process of degradation. The body is placed in a biodegradable coffin or body bag and is buried in a shallow grave, where microbe-rich soil can efficiently break down the body and return nutrients to the soil.
This contrasts to conventional graves where the body of the deceased is embalmed to preserve against decay and is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a coffin. Coffins are usually covered by a grave liner or a burial vault (typically made of concrete), which prevents the coffin from collapsing under the weight of the earth. The coffin is placed several metres below the soil surface where decomposition is less likely to occur.
The goal of a green cemetery is for the land to remain in as natural state as possible. Rather than a headstone, each body is buried with its own GPS transmitting device so relatives can located their loved ones. Some green cemeteries even mark each grave with a natural object, such as native trees, wildflowers or a boulder. Natural burials therefore have the “dust to dust” appeal of cremation (through beneficial biodegradation rather than ash) while still providing a visitable place for mourners – win win!
Most states in Australia now have at least one natural burial ground. Many conventional cemeteries are also offering “greener” options for burial including the opportunity to decline the concrete grave liner or use local, rather than imported stone for the burial monument.
With any luck by the time I pass away (I’m hoping that won’t be for another 50 years at least!) natural burials will be common place and our burial grounds will closely resemble natural bushland rather than manicured lawns or derelict graveyards. In the meantime, I’ll let my husband and other close relatives know my green burial wish and choice of eco-cemetery.
I find the idea of having my body decomposing under my own native tree strangely comforting and much more appealing than being enclosed within a rusted gate, beneath a cracking headstone or even having my ashes placed in a concrete wall.
Have you given much thought to your final resting place? I’d love for you to share below.
About the Author: Laura Trotta is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She is passionate about helping parents lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Laura lives in regional South Australia with her husband and two young sons.