Green Burials

26 October 2016

Written by: Katherine McLeod

The number of eco-friendly burials is growing in Australia, writes Katherine McLeod.

Have you ever thought about how you continue to effect the environment after you’re dead? If you thought death was the end of you ruining the planet, then you are wrong.

Choosing to have an eco-friendly ending not only significantly reduces the amount of carbon emissions produced compared to a traditional funeral, but also reduces degredation of waterways and land.

Being cremated is not a particularly eco friendly way to go. If that’s the way you choose, it’s easy to make sure your ashes are able to support the ecosystem. American company Eternal Reefs transforms cremated remains into artificial coral reefs to support marine life at a time when traditional coral reefs are undergoing substantial deterioration.

Bios Urn has created a biodegradable urn that is designed to hold a tree seed inside, along with cremated ashes. Once the urn is buried, the tree begins to grow. The urn then decomposes, and eventually the entire structure becomes part of the sub-soil and fertiliser for the tree.

The rapidly growing market for biodegradable coffins comes after the rise in different materials now available for burial. As of 2015, wicker and cardboard remain the most common alternatives in the UK, although everything from banana leaf to water hyacinth and bamboo are now being used in Australia.

For music lovers, there’s an option to have your remains pressed into a vinyl record. And Vinyly offer a range of packages for people, and pets because “when the album that is life finally reaches the end, wouldn’t it be nice to keep that record spinning for eternity?”

Funerals followed by a traditional burial or cremation can be resource intensive and they generate carbon emissions.

The WorldWatch Institute found that a single cremation generated 160 kilograms of CO2 on average, compared to 39 kilograms for a standard burial. Factoring in graveside maintenance, burials release 10% more emissions.

Director of non-profit organization The GroundSwell Project, Kerrie Noonan, believes the fact that people haven’t previously been exposed to green funerals has had an effect on what people choose to do.

“Green burial and the natural death movement offer a view enabling us to consider how we die, where we die and how we want to dispose of our body,” she tells upstart.

“Most people haven’t ever had access to the full range of options available to them. Most of us move from hospital-based end of life care to our body being handed over the care of a funeral director, without being told of all of the options available.”

Funeral Director Libby Moloney is the founder of the Natural Death Advocacy Network, an organisation advocating natural approaches to dying and death.

Moloney told the ABC that the natural death movement was becoming more popular, partially as a response to the cost of conventional funeral care and also because of the environmental impact.

“In our experience of dealing with hundreds of families now, we’ve never had a request for embalming,” she said

“There’s no need for it to be a complicated process, it’s easy to wash someone’s hair and just dress them in the clothes that the families have asked for, or to shroud the naked form.”

89-year-old Beth Heritage is a firm supporter of eco-friendly endings.

“I’ve heard of green funerals. They weren’t around when I was young, let me tell you that. I like the idea of doing something to help the environment when I’m gone, to keep making a difference. I’d like to still be able to help the earth in some way,” she tells upstart.

“It’s sort of like not being really gone. If your remains become a tree or a plant then I think that’s better for families to visit. It’s less sad, and it’s still a piece of your loved one. I like that idea.”


Katherine-McleodWeb_thumbKatherine McLeod is a third year journalism student at La Trobe University and a staff writer for upstart. Twitter: @kattt_mcleod