Traditional burials in the Western world generally consist of practices that contribute in some way to the carbon footprint. The recently departed are traditionally embalmed with synthetic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, and are placed in chemically treated caskets that resist disintegration into the earth. New cemeteries crop up constantly, trying to meet the demand of the ageing population.
This means more land is taken up by graves and large elaborate gravestones, not to mention the pesticides or chemical fertilizers that many cemeteries use each year to maintain their manicured grounds, as well the emissions from lawn mowers and hedgers, which utilize non-renewable fossil fuels. However, in this increasingly environmentally conscious age, many people opt to leave the earth with the same environmentally-aware ethos that they lived their life by.
Funerals are intensely personal rituals, and every individual and family should allow this important time to be a genuine reflection of their life and their beliefs. Therefore, green or eco-friendly funerals are becoming an increasingly popular option for individuals and families. The unavoidable fact is that all funerals will have some sort of impact on the environment, but the ideal aim is to minimize your carbon footprint, and help the environment in any way you can. This can include the decrease of carbon emissions, and the preservation of natural resources and habitat. Making a funeral more eco-friendly can be as simple as utilizing recycled material to make the stationary for the service, or catering the wake with organic food.
Green funerals generally involve wrapping the un-embalmed person (or minimally embalmed, with natural products) in a biodegradable shroud made of all-natural materials such as cotton, hessian or silk. They are then placed in a casket or coffin that is made of 100% biodegradable and non-chemically treated timber. Sustainable materials that can also be used for the casket are bamboo, banana leaf, pandana leaf, sea-grass and wicker. No glue or varnish should be used in these caskets. The idea is for the person to return to the earth with minimal interference. The deceased can be buried in an authorised natural burial ground that looks much like a bushland setting, in a way that minimizes any impact on the natural surrounds. The area remains untouched, and is not maintained by landscapers. This means, of course, that no elaborate headstones or markers are used.
As a substitute, some green-burial cemeteries occasionally permit the use of a small, rustic flat stone to mark the gravesite. Most others will opt for the location of the gravesite to be denoted with GPS coordinates. In Melbourne, a handful of beautiful and picturesque green, natural burial sites exist, which have been left in their natural state, in order to minimize any impact on the ecosystem. One is the Lilydale Memorial Park’s Djeernongs Walk (Aboriginal term for many footprints or pathway). This is a grassy and lush sectioned-off area in their cemetery, which has been reserved especially as an eco-friendly burial ground. Individuals are buried in a natural biodegradable shroud or coffin without a headstone. Another eco-friendly burial site is set within the picturesque Healesville Cemetery’s Tharangilkbek (Aboriginal term for promenade for the dead/ woody country in the sky). A third option is the peaceful Kurweeton Road Cemetery, which is located in the beautiful Corangamite Shire. The name of the individual is recorded in perpetuity on a memorial wall, and the family receive a GPS location of their burial site.
Alternatively, there are environmentally friendly cremation options. Cremation has the significant benefit of leaving no physical impact on the land, as there is no burial point. Whether an individual or family choose a green funeral or a traditional funeral, they should ensure that they plan it in a meaningful way that celebrates and reflects their wonderful life.