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Can you have a “green” funeral?

 

We tailor funerals to celebrate and reflect the essence of our lives. Increasingly, people are adopting environmental values and these can be reflected in our funerals and burials too.

 

Talk about your values

At any stage of our lives, we can consider the type of funeral and burial that we would like. Talking about funerals can be difficult; particularly at sensitive times when someone in your life is unwell or dying. So it’s a good idea to discuss any ideas that you have about your funeral as they arise.

It may be that you’re committed to, or interested in the environment. This could mean that you want a funeral and burial that has less impact on the environment and an environmental feel. There are many ways that you can do this.

Once you have decided on what you want, make your intentions clear by writing them down for loved ones, or even stating what you would like in your will. This will help you make decisions about your funeral and help your family and friends when it’s time for them to make arrangements.

Cremate, bury or an alternative option

Whether you choose to be cremated or buried may be influenced by your values, family traditions and religion. There are environmentally friendly options associated with both decisions.

 

Cremation

The environmental impacts associated with cremation include greenhouse gas emissions from burning a body, the fuel used to heat the furnace, burning the coffin and creating the urn. There are also more pollutants and emissions associated with embalmed bodies due to the chemicals used for embalming. Environmental choices that you could make include:

  • Keep your body in a natural state, and don’t choose to be embalmed
  • The law requires Australians to be cremated in a coffin so choose a cardboard coffin or a wood coffin made from a sustainable wood source that is not varnished
  • Choose a crematorium that has made efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions
  • Choose an urn made from sustainable sources including cardboard and bamboo

 

Burial

The environmental impacts from burial include the resources needed for the coffin, the space used in a graveyard, maintenance of the graveyard and the depth that the coffin is buried at (deep burial slows the decomposition process and causes more emissions). Again, embalming adds to the environmental impact due to the chemicals used, which may eventually pollute the ground. To reduce your environmental impact, you can:

  • Keep your body in a natural state, and don’t choose to be embalmed
  • Choose a cardboard coffin, or a wood coffin made from a sustainable wood source that is unvarnished
  • Be buried closer to the ground to encourage decomposition, there are minimum legal requirements in Australia that your funeral director will know about
  • Be buried in the same allotment as other family members
  • Choose to have a tree planted at your site, rather than have a headstone

 

Natural Burials

Natural burial is a more recent and increasingly common method of burial that combines all of these environmental principles. It involves a natural, non-embalmed body being buried in a cotton shroud or cardboard coffin in a shallow grave to encourage decomposition. Rather than a headstone, the site is marked with a plant or the body is buried with a GPS so family and friends can locate their loved one. There are natural burial sites in Australia and their availability and regulations vary between each state and territory.

 

Another alternative

Rather than cremate or bury your body straight away, you may consider donating your body to scientific research. You need to make this decision, and arrange it yourself, as you will need to personally enter into an agreement with an accredited university.

Celebrate your life with an environmentally sustainable funeral

Making your funeral more environmentally sustainable is easy, and involves the same choices that arise when organising any event. These options can be pre-arranged or you can request that these principles be followed:

  • Flowers: If you would like to have flowers, choose native flowers that are locally grown and that aren’t packaged in plastics or polystyrene type foams. For examples of native flowers, click here.
  • Charity: Instead of flowers, you could ask people to donate to your favourite charity as a way of recognising your values
  • Recycled paper: Use recycled paper for invitations, notices and booklets
  • Share information online: Keep people up to date via email and post death and funeral notices online
  • Catering: Choose caterers that prepare organic food, that is preferably locally grown, and who try to use less packaging as part of their service
  • Transport: Reduce the use of transport through carpooling
  • Recycle and compost: Recycle and compost waste during and after the funeral
  • Offset: After the funeral has been arranged, offset the emissions from the funeral as you would any event

More information

There are laws that govern cremation, burial and donating your body to science. Talk to your funeral director about the environmentally sustainable options that they can offer and for advice on all aspects of your funeral.

Related articles on The Last Post

Other articles in the “Environmental funerals” series:

 

This post provides an overview of our articles to make it easy for you to find what you need: