Green Burial – What Is It and Where Can I Find a Green Cemetery?
You might be wondering, by returning ourselves to the earth, aren’t all cemeteries green? The short answer is no, they’re not, and not all burials are green. Let’s clear up the confusion and look at what constitutes a green burial, what it means to us and the environment, and what our options are in the Lower Mainland of B.C.
What is a Green Burial?
The Green Burial Society of B.C. was founded in 2013 after its creators realized that people who care passionately about the environment were looking for options for environmentally sustainable death care delivery. As such, they also developed 5 Principles of Green Burial that I will summarize for you here to help you understand what a green burial is and is not.
First and foremost, no embalming. The age-old practice of chemically preserving our loved ones to look like they are only sleeping may be psychologically appealing but is harsh on our environment, so the first step to a green burial is allowing the body to decompose in a natural way.
Over the last 100-150 years, society has become accustomed to embalming, the practice implemented to preserve, restore, and sanitize our dead, and leave a positive “memory” for the loved ones left behind. While this may be an optimal choice for some, it’s not for others. When foregoing embalming, families must be prepared with the reality of death, as our ancestors were 200 years ago.
Direct Earth Burial
Direct earth burial allows our bodies to be environmentally friendly in death. Without metal caskets, grave liners, and protective vaults, we can be buried in natural shrouds or biodegradable caskets that allow us and our containers to fully biodegrade in a sustainable way.
The dead are dressed, shrouded, and/or casketed in biodegradable materials. The intention is that they will go back to the earth quickly with the least stress on Mother Earth. At Anora, we offer locally made simple caskets for this purpose.
Ecological restoration and conservation is very important to creating a green ceremony, to such an extent that some cemeteries do not allow visitation to an actual gravesite, but rather promote walking on paths through the cemetery that preserves the land and ecology.
This entails the planting of indigenous plants and trees, once the earth settles on a given burial area. Unlike the burials that we have witnessed in the recent past, there is no grave liner (a cement structure below the earth) and no personal grave marker.
Communal memorialization follows closely to principle #3, wherein general communal markers, made with sustainable materials, are used to commemorate the deceased and make the entire green cemetery one large shared memorial site. One large natural marker is present for each “section” or meadow, with the loved ones’ names on this marker.
Land Use Optimization
Finally, land use is optimized to protect and preserve the local environment. As such, the introduction of re-use of areas, minimal roads, and optimal grave dimensions allow for sustainable planning.
Design elements will include minimal installation of infrastructure, temporary roads that can be removed and converted into internment lots, operationally pragmatic grave dimensions and section lot plans that maximize interment capacity are some of the considerations applied.
Where Can I Look Into Green Burial in B.C.?
Here in the Lower Mainland, there are a few wonderful and progressive green burial options. While these local options are all attached to “modern” cemeteries, you’ll note that they are doing their best to make positive change for the sake of the environment and/or to optimize the land that is already in use. Many families appreciate the efforts and recognize that some of the solutions may not be perfect but every step forward is still an advancement.
Heritage Gardens in South Surrey is a sustainable cemetery with a certified Green Burial section. As Canada’s first Sustainable Cemetery, they give back to the environment in several ways. These include growing then donating the food that grows on their land, and facilitating sponsorship of the bee husbandry that the property supports, as a means of memorialization. Check them out here.
Chilliwack Cemetery and Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery are also making efforts towards environmentally sustainable practice. Mountain View Cemetery, for example, allows biodegradable urns, caskets, and shrouds as part of their Green Burial Council-certified hybrid practice. Additionally, those interred at Mountain View do not require embalming or casket vaults and liners. Chilliwack Cemetery’s Heritage Woods section allows for green burial and cremation as well. I encourage you to explore these local options to learn more.
Where Else Can I Look?
Outside of the central region around Vancouver, there are other noteworthy green burial options that I’d like to share. Salt Spring Island is just one of a few options off the Lower Mainland, and interesting options are developing just to the south of us in Washington state.
Salt Spring is unique because it is a stand-alone natural burial ground forest. Made up of Coastal Douglas Fir trees, this natural cemetery puts 25% of their funds into ensuring the old-growth forest, indigenous plants, and ecosystem have perpetual care and protection. To me, this is the ultimate in local environmental options if you are so inclined.
Making Your Decision
One thing to keep in mind when choosing a place of interment is that, while we have so many options that we didn’t even have five years ago, we also have to think about what is right for our families. This is a very personal decision. For example, will your family members prefer a cemetery that is close to the family home because they know they would visit often? Or, conversely, some families prefer a cemetery out of town to make an outing of it, away from the city towards the countryside. Be sure to discuss these options with those who will likely be visiting you.
Regardless of where you choose to rest in peace, if we could die like we live, the “zero waste” lifestyle person would not only be doing their best to not harm the environment but actually make it better.