The Five Principles of Green Burial
The following are the essential criteria that should be present to properly qualify an interment as a ‘Green Burial’.
Human remains are prepared for green burial without embalming. Decomposition is nature’s way of recycling a body. From this perspective families who choose green burial regard embalming as a highly invasive, unnatural and unnecessary practice.
Human remains that are not embalmed can still be prepared for burial and viewing. With refrigeration and the use of topical (external) application of environmentally sensitive soaps, lotions and disinfection agents, human remains can, without embalming, be prepared and dressed for a dignified viewing.
Direct Earth Burial
The un-embalmed remains are wrapped in a shroud made of natural, biodegradable fibres and then buried directly in the grave.
Alternatively, the shrouded remains can be placed into a casket or alternative form of container, where the casket or container is also made of sustainable and fully biodegradable materials.
In an ideal circumstance the shrouds and/or casket will be locally sourced, as close as possible to the deceased’s place of death and green burial.
For green burial no outside grave liner or protective vault is used. The shrouded and/or casketed body is buried directly into the ground.
Ecological Restoration & Conservation
Once a green burial has been completed the surface of every grave is, after allowing some time for grave settling, planted with locally indigenous plant materials, using a combination of groundcover, shrubs and trees. These plantings will normally be done according to a pre-established planting plan designed to optimize the creation, enhancement and integration of the interment area into the greater local eco-system.
Sensitivity to and protection of the growing and eventually the established eco-system of the interment area is essential. For this reason the visitation of individual graves is discouraged and may eventually be prohibited. Visitation of the interment area is managed through the sensitive placement of walking paths and the occasional bench, optimally placed adjacent to the communal memorial for the site.
Site preservation and perpetual protection is a key component of this principle of green burial. A combination of the use of covenants, protective easements and other enforceable guarantees made by the green burial cemetery operator are put in place to ensure the site will never be repurposed and the natural eco-system protected – in perpetuity.
For green burial the use of individual memorials is discouraged. Instead communal memorialization, again using naturally sourced materials, is placed in the green burial cemetery (or cemetery section) and only simple, basic inscriptions are made.
Ultimately it is the green burial site as whole that becomes a living memorial to the persons interred there.
Optimize Land Use
A well planned green burial cemetery (or cemetery section) will optimize the land it occupies.
Design elements will include minimal installation of infrastructure, temporary roads that can be removed and converted into interment lots, operationally pragmatic grave dimensions and section lot plans that maximize interment capacity are some of the considerations applied.
The re-use of graves is a highly sustainable practice that optimizes land use in a green burial (or any) cemetery. See following for further comment on this practice in Canada.
Also, where the interment of bodies cannot be accommodated in a green burial area these ‘border or surplus’ zones may be purposed for the green burial of cremated remains using surface or sub-surface disposition methods.
The Re-use of graves — not yet, but soon?
The re-use of grave space makes sense as the most logical and sustainable use of limited interment space, especially in urban settings.
Optimally, green burial (and conventional) cemeteries would be designed in such a way that some areas permit for the re-use of graves. The concept of a re-useable or term-limited grave is common throughout the world.
Only a small number of countries, and primarily the U.S. and Canada, use the ‘perpetual right of interment’ cemetery model. Other than a small number of religious cemeteries in Quebec that have ‘100 year leases’, the perpetual right of interment is the most common form of grave ownership in every province in Canada.
A goal of the Green Burial Society is to advocate with every province for a change to cemetery law that will permit cemetery operators to offer, across Canada, the option for cemetery sections where graves can be re-used, thus making cemeteries far more operationally and environmentally sustainable than they are now.
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