Just like your grandmother’s perennials in early spring, the term Green Burial is popping up a lot more lately. With all of the information going around the internet, it can be difficult to navigate and understand what options you really have. In the past, TalkDeath has helped to debunk some common myths about green burial, as well offering 11 environmentally friendly options for burial. Now it’s time for some Green Burial Updates.
But call us Bob Dylan, cause the times they are a changin’! New Green Burial options are on the horizon, and some old ones have been proven scientifically unsound. With these developments in mind, we’d like to provide you with some important green burial updates.
Green Burial Updates 2020
If you are anything like us at TalkDeath, the idea of combining gardening and death positivity is something we can dig (get it?). Human composting (aka, recomposition and natural organic reduction), which has been in development for a few years now, is now becoming a real option for disposition. The idea started in 2012, when Urban Death Project founder, Katrina Spade, was looking for a more environmentally conscious way to manage the bodies of the dead in urban centers. In 2017, after years of research and development, she founded Recompose, a public benefit corporation.
The bones, which are left over, are processed and crushed in the same fashion as in cremation.
Unlike more conventional burial, where the body goes into a hole dug in the ground, recomposition is a process where the body is broken down into fertilized soil. If the thought of recomposition gives you nightmares about that compost pile in your garden, don’t fear! The process of human composting is a bit different. The transformation happens inside reusable, hexagonal Recomposition Vessels that are built onsite in the Recompose facility. The body is laid over wood chips and aerated. This process helps to create the perfect environment for thermophilic (i.e. heat-loving) microbes and beneficial bacteria to break down organic matter (i.e. grandma’s corpse) quickly. The ratio of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture, is carefully controlled to ensure these microbes and bacteria thrive.
It takes about 30 days for the process to complete, during which they also mix the material at several points to ensure thorough decomposition. After the month is over, the bones, which are left over, are processed and crushed in the same fashion as in cremation. There is a careful screening process for any non-organic materials, such as metal fillings, pacemakers, prosthetics and artificial joints, which are recycled whenever possible. The final product is much like the topsoil you can find at a garden nursery. Families then have the option to take the soil home, or have it used in on-site gardens.
Where to find Human Composting in the United States and Canada
In Canada, Susan Koswan of the Good Green Death Project is lobbying to bring recomposition to Ontario. They are still looking for funding partners and volunteers to help make recomposting of human remains a reality in Ontario.
In the United states, a Los Angeles Lawmaker, Cristina Garcia, recently introduced Assembly Bill 2592 to allow for human composting, or natural organic reduction.
On May 21st, 2019, Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, signed a bill that legalizes human composting, or “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.” The law will go into effect on May 1st, 2020, and Recompose plans to have their first centre open to the public in Seattle in early 2021.
Green and Natural Burial Options
When it comes to green burial grounds there are three main types: Natural Burial Grounds, Conservation Green Cemeteries and Hybrid Cemeteries. There is also what we term as ‘Green-Friendly’ Cemeteries.
Natural Burial Grounds, or Green Cemeteries, are burial grounds that practice only full green burials, as well as interning biodegradable urns.
Conservation Green Cemeteries are the same as Natural Burial Grounds with the added level as being registered as a conservation area. This can be held by a municipality, a conservation authority or a land trust.
Hybrid Cemeteries are what we consider ‘traditional’ cemeteries that offer green burial in designated areas. These areas are often set apart from the rest of the cemetery, and follow the guidelines for green burial.
‘Green-Friendly’ Cemeteries are cemeteries that do not have an official designated area for green burials, but they offer environmentally friendly options (no vault, simple casket, shrouds, etc.) to make an effort to be more green.
Green Burial Cemetery Updates in Canada
We have a full list of green-friendly cemeteries in Canada here. And remember, if you want to see more green options and designated burial grounds in your areas then contact your municipalities and ask!
Recently in Surry, B.C., Canada, Trevor Crean and his family have opened up a new kind of hybrid cemetery, Heritage Gardens Cemetery. Their cemetery has a beehive and vegetable garden that not only encourages people to visit the space more often, but also provides honey and vegetables as gifts to grieving families.
Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver is taking the ‘Green-Friendly’ approach by considering the option to allow strangers to share a grave space, and also plans to establish green burial options within the cemetery. Mountain View is even considering eliminating future tombstones and markers to allow the natural landscape to flourish. The city has approved the bylaws for these changes, but the cemetery board is still exploring how to integrate these options to their current practices.
Alberta is finally catching up to Green Burial. A new green cemetery opened in Lethbridge, which is the first municipality in Alberta to set aside a specific cemetery ground for green burials to take place. Grasslands Green Burial Grounds located in Royal View Memorial Cemetery on the North side of the city.
Rosehill Cemetery in Edmonton, Alberta is another Hybrid Cemetery, and has a section for green burials. The Meadows of Rosehill has room for about 900 green graves in a one-acre area of land located at the back end of the cemetery.
The City of Edmonton is also in the “natural burial” concept planning stage at Northern Lights and South Haven cemeteries, but haven’t set a date for when that option will be available. There are other towns in Alberta who are in the same planning stages, including the towns of Cold Lake and Slave Lake, but nothing has been officially announced yet.
Calgary is opening its first new cemetery in over 80 years, and plans for it to be a Hybrid Cemetery offering green burial options. Southeast Cemetery is opening later this year.
Picton, Ontario’s Glenwood Cemetery is now licenced to offer Green Burials. A separate section has been developed to offer Green Burials in the natural green forest which is specially designed to permit human remains to be returned to the earth as naturally as possible.
Although there is growing popular demand for Green Cemeteries, there still are none in the Maritimes. Some cemeteries are more open to working with you to get a greener burial, so it is important to contact your local cemetery and ask what options they can provide for you. In Nova Scotia, you can also contact the Ecology Action Center, which is working towards more dedicated green spaces and burial options in the province.
Green Burial Cemetery Updates in the United States
In the United States, five acres of land in Washburn, Tennessee has been turned into a green burial site. The Narrow Ridge Natural Burial Preserve is the first of its kind in the state of Tennessee. For more green burial sites in the US the Green Burial Council has a list, and for our readers across the pond in the UK The Natural Death Centre has a list of burial grounds as well.
Do you know of any new Green Burial sites that have opened in the USA since 2019? Let us know in the comments below!
Though cremation is not considered a fully green option, there are many choices out there for urns that can help make your disposition plans more environmentally friendly. If you are looking to make an eco-conscious choice, then the most important thing to consider is what the urn is made out of. There are many options to choose from, but by definition a biodegradable urn is made of organic material that is capable of decomposing naturally.
This floating urn is made out of ice that slowly dissolves and releases your cremated remains into the water as it melts.
Common biodegradable urn choices include: Wooden Urns, Tree Urns, Scattering Urns, and Water Urns.
Each choice has its own pros and cons, and each biodegrade at their own rates. A wooden urn can take 1 to 20 years to biodegrade depending on the type of wood, and where it is buried. Some places are now selling biodegradable scattering urns, which can be made from bamboo, wood, or cardboard, and can take anywhere from between a month to 10 years to biodegrade depending on the material of choice. Water urns are typically either made from paper or recycled plant materials and decompose in anywhere from 1 to 30 minutes depending on the urn, how it’s being used, and the water conditions.
The death-ernet went wild recently with the Flow Ice Urn. Created by American Designer Diane Leclair Bisson, this floating urn is made out of ice that slowly dissolves and releases your cremated remains into the water as it melts. This offers an immaterial alternative to traditional urns, and features a sealed container of ice with a cavity that can hold cremated ashes. It is currently available in select funeral homes across the United States, and is supported by The Living Urn, the same people who brought us urns that are said to grow saplings—we will go more into why these don’t necessarily work later on.
Water Cremation, bio-cremation, or scientifically referred to as Alkaline Hydrolysis, is an eco-friendly alternative to cremation. Alkaline Hydrolysis mimics the natural process your body goes through if you’re buried; the machine just speeds it up by adding water, heat, and lye. The two main suppliers of these machines are Bio Response Solutions, in Danville, Indiana, and Resomation, in the UK. You will often hear the process referred to as Aquamation, or Resomation, but these are just the brand names for the machines. Water Cremation or Alkaline Hydrolysis are the proper terms to use.
The process involves placing the body into a high pressure tank filled with water and potassium hydroxide. This chamber is heated to 150°C (300°F for you Americans). Don’t fear, we are not boiling grandma here, it is a pressurized process that heats the body – like a very warm bath that eats away blood, skin, muscle and fat within a four hour process leaving behind bleached white bones.
Melissa Unfred (aka The Modern Mortician) at Green Cremation Texas likes to refer to water cremation as a spa day for grandma. Any non-organic material that survives the process, such as a metal hip, is removed and the bones are processed into ash in a similar way as cremated bones. The result is a fine white ash that contains 20% more remains than traditional flame cremation. The bone itself is calcium phosphate, so it is not technically even bone, but you can still treat it just the same as cremated remains.
But what about the water? After the process is completed the dissolved solution looks like tea, or a pale beer, and is a sterile mix of 96% water 4% acids and peptides, with no human DNA. It is perfectly safe. In Oregon the water is donated to water sod farms.
Where is Bio-Cremation legal?
For pets, bio-cremation is currently legal everywhere in the United States and Canada. For humans it is legal in 20 states 4 provinces, as well as other parts of the world including: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Costa Rica, Mexico, and South Africa.
Unfortunately there is not a list of places in the United States or Canada that have operational machines, but even if it is illegal in your area, you can reach out to your local funeral service provider and they could arrange to ship your body to a machine in a neighbouring area. Melissa says she transfers bodies to neighbouring areas all the time. When we asked Melissa if the interest in this bio-cremation has grown recently she told us that she constantly gets phone calls asking about the service, even though it is not yet legal in her state. Melissa also posts a lot on her Instagram about Water Cremation, so you should definitely follow her to get more information (@mod_mortician).
In Ontario, Canada, there has been a moratorium on installation and licensing since February 2018 with concerns about low-temperature methods (same process, but it takes longer.) Kingston’s Wartman Funeral Home is now the only facility in the province licensed to cremate bodies using alkaline hydrolysis. It uses the high-temperature method. The high heat process has been approved as safe by the Ontario Health Board.
Learn more about Water Cremation here.
So why is water cremation green? Melissa points out that “it is the closest to natural burial without going in the ground. It continues the cycle of life by using water that can be reused in agriculture.” Water cremation saves 90% energy when compared to flame-based cremation. This process uses less fossil fuels and causes less emissions than cremation.
Forests, woods, woodlands, trees whatever term you want to use, they are the most common image that appears in our minds when thinking about Green Burials. There are many people who find comfort amongst the evergreens, and the idea of being laid to rest in a wooded area can be idyllic.
But what about becoming a tree? Today you can choose from a variety of urns that are designed to grow saplings from a mixture of your ash and soil. There are a few options available including the BiosUrn, The Living Urn and EterniTrees. The idea is that cremated remains, or ashes, are placed in a biodegradable container that is designed to decompose when buried in the earth. Next, a tree seed or sapling is planted above to be nourished by the cremated remains. You could also use Capsula Mundi and have your cremated remains (and potentially eventually your corpse), in an egg-shaped organic pod that the tree will grow from.
Full disclosure: this method often does not work well! Saplings have a hard time growing with cremated remains close by. This is because cremated remains can turn into cement eventually, inhibiting tree growth. If you want your ashes placed under a tree, our suggestion would be to place the ashes at the foot of a mature tree, with some depth and distance.
This is where Better Place Forests comes into the conversation. Located just south of Silicon Valley, this start-up is hoping to change the way we memorialize our dead by providing access to established, and conservation easement protected forests where you can pay to have your ashes mixed with soil and scattered at the base of a tree of your choosing.
When you read about Green Burials, shrouds are an option that is sure to come up. Shrouds are considered the greenest option for burial, even above wood, woven, or cardboard caskets. They are also the OG’s of Green and Natural burial with Jewish, Muslim, and even some Orthodox Christian cultures using shrouds in their burial practices.
Basically, a shroud is a large piece of fabric that is used to wrap the body. Shrouds can be made of unbleached cotton fabric, muslin, linen, silk, felted wool, bamboo or hemp, and can be very plain or colourfully and elaborately decorated. Pockets or slots for mementos or herbal sachets are also a common feature.
If you want to include a shroud in your burial, there are some green cemeteries and funeral homes that offer them for purchase. You can also find places online that sell them, such as Kinkaraco, who are endorsed by the Green Burial Council in the US. There is also nothing stopping you from making your own shroud!
We have written about shrouds before, including what to consider when creating or purchasing them. At the time, the Mushroom Suit was very popular, but recently there have been a few publications that have put into question the merit of the suit. It is important when a new trend pops up in Green Burial that we are patient and do our due diligence to research and ask the right questions to see if it is not only a viable option for green burial, but also an option we want to invest our money and death into.
At the end of the day, green burial is about reducing your ecological footprint.
Green Burial Updates Conclusion
Though green burials, and greener options, are slowly becoming more accessible, many families will not have the opportunity to participate in these innovations, products and services. Where green burial may not be possible for legal, practical, cultural or religious reasons, the ideal solution is that cemetery and funeral service providers will be able to help you with finding eco-friendly alternatives. Green burial should not be an all or nothing scenario. You could hold a home funeral, carpool instead of fly to a funeral or memorial service, skip embalming, share a grave, or choose a biodegradable coffin or shroud for burial. Even simply replacing the lining of the casket with an eco-friendly material could cut your impact by 86%. Though these suggestions won’t give you a green burial by definition, they can work towards lessening your environmental impact.
Overwhelmed by all these Green Burial Updates? At the end of the day, green burial is about reducing your ecological footprint. It is important to understand what kind of impact your burial can have on the environment, and know all the green friendly alternatives that are out there.