What counts as “natural”?
A natural burial is the act of returning a body as naturally as possible to the earth. To achieve this, we recommend that the body not be embalmed or cremated, but instead buried in a simple casket or shroud, in a protected green space. Making the choice for natural burial means you are choosing a low impact burial. It is a choice that reduces energy and resource consumption, and one that is less toxic. In addition it ensures the land cannot be used for any other purpose therefore protecting these wild spaces from becoming a subdivision or quarry.
Are there headstones?
Many choose not to have any marker at all, but some prefer a marker, to memorialize the deceased. As Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723), the architect of many of London’s great landmarks wrote, “If you want to see my monument, look around you!” Natural Burial grounds only contain natural markers that don’t intrude on the landscape. These natural markers can include shrubs and trees, or a flat indigenous stone, which may be engraved. As in all cemeteries, there are careful records kept of every interment, and mapped with a GIS (geographic information system).
What does it cost?
A natural burial is usually less expensive option than a conventional burial. What makes a natural burial different from a financial perspective, is that the costs are better allocated, with money carrying on the legacy of the deceased by protecting green space instead of the mark-up on expensive, unnecessary materials and procedures. Cremation is typically a cheaper option, but all of the environmental costs are not factored in.
Is it dangerous?
One of the important components of our standards and the government’s standards, is an environmental assessment which will determine the suitability of any proposed site, and an official environmental determination of the capacity of the natural cemetery.
Can I still be embalmed?
Because embalming significantly retards the natural process of decomposition and because it introduces a variety of toxic chemicals into the cemetery, embalming is not compatible with a natural cemetery. In addition, embalming has adverse consequences for the embalmer, who is exposed to noxious chemicals. There are environmentally friendlier alternatives to embalming with formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), however these alternative chemicals still are toxic to the environment and may not be accepted in natural burial sites. There many alternative methods of preservation in order to carry out a ceremony. You may find more information here.
Where are natural burial grounds?
In Canada, there are currently four sites: Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, British Columbia, Union Cemetery in Cobourg Ontario, Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton Ontario, and Duffin Meadows Cemetery in Pickering, Ontario – with more in the planning stages. If you have a natural burial ground in the works, tell us!
How do I create my own ground?
Cemeteries are provincially legislated in Canada, so you can start by reviewing the requirements online. Cemeteries are typically zoned as industrial use, so the property you are considering will need to have the proper zoning. Changes to zoning can be challenging, so speak to your area’s planning department early in the process. Please let us know about your efforts, as we may be able to link you up with others who are interested in supporting the cause locally.
Watch “A Will for the Woods”, the award-winning documentary on green burial.
“What if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Musician and psychiatrist Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial in this immersive documentary. While battling lymphoma, Clark has discovered a burgeoning movement that uses burial to conserve and restore natural areas, forgoing typical funeral practices that stress the ecosystem. Boldly facing his mortality, Clark and his partner Jane have become passionate about green burial, compelled by both the environmental benefits and the idea that one can remain within the cycle of life, rather than being cut off from it. The spirited pair have inspired a compassionate local cemeterian, and together they aim to use green burial to save a North Carolina woods from being clear-cut.”