On 30 November 2016 we held a community information evening on green funeral options. Choosing a green funeral is a final statement and commitment one can make to sustainability. It is also the ultimate tribute of a family to honour that wish. Below is a summary of the the various environmentally friendly options for funerals and links to further information.
The NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria is the NSW Government body that oversees the interment industry. This webpage from NSW Health details all regulations relating to the disposal of the deceased.
Natural burials allow the body to return to nature in a way that does not inhibit decomposition. The body is dressed in biodegradable clothing and prepared without chemical preservatives and disinfectants. The burial park has no headstones but a central commemorative feature records the names of those buried. Relatives know the exact location using GPS technology. Sydney’s first natural burial park at Kemps Creek opened in 2010.
More information on natural burials:
There are more than 50,000 deaths a year in NSW with two-thirds opting for cremations and one-third for burials. Around 230 operators provide interment services in NSW.. More statistics on cemeteries and crematoria can be found here.
This article states that, based on a lifecycle assessment study in the Netherlands, the most significant environment impact after death was surprisingly the funeral ceremonies – greater even than the burial or cremation.
The Chain O’Ponds Memorial Park and Crematorium near Kempsey on the north coast of NSW is powered by off-grid solar power and battery technology.
Water cremation - aquamation
The world’s first aquamation funeral took place in Australia. Our bodies are 70% water to begin with. Aquamation employs a process of alkaline hydrolysis in which the body is placed in a stainless-steel vat containing a potassium hydroxide and water solution for four hours until what remains is only the skeleton. Aquamation accelerates the process that occurs in nature. Even the residual liquid can be recycled.
Advantages: It uses 10% of energy needed for cremation and there are no emissions. Pacemakers need not be removed beforehand and implants such as titanium hip implants can be reused as they remain intact and sterile. Items of jewellery, gold teeth, etc, can also be recovered. The funeral ceremony is exactly the same; loved ones view the coffin go behind a curtain. Bones remain as they do after a cremation; if requested, they can be returned to the family in the form of ashes.
More information on aquamation - Information sheet.
Coffins, shrouds and urns
Coffins and caskets slow the process of decomposition. You can opt for biodegradable environmentally friendly coffins or shrouds instead. Some options are:
Burials at sea
In Australia burials at sea are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, which is administered by the Department of the Environment and Energy. Therefore, people seeking to arrange a burial at sea will require a sea dumping permit. A permit is required only for sea burial of bodies. No permit is required to scatter ashes.
There is no automatic right to a burial at sea. Permits are generally only granted to those with a demonstrated connection to the sea, such as long serving navy personnel or fishermen. It is suggested that those wishing to be buried at sea make their wishes, and the reasons for these wishes, known in a will or to a family member. This will allow the appropriate person to request a burial at sea and to provide sufficient justification for such a burial.
Burials at sea should be organised by a funeral home. This will ensure that preparation for burial is in accordance with the Ship Captain's Medical Guide and that the body is properly handled. The body must not be embalmed and should be sewn into a shroud (not placed in a casket or other such container).
The cost of hiring a boat makes burials at sea much more expensive than conventional burials. Applications for burials at sea cost $1,675. More details can be found here.
Donating to science
You could donate your body to medical science, including your organs. This is a conscious decision you must make and arrange prior to your death. It is not something your family can opt to do after your death. Most universities teaching medical courses have body donation programs:
Australia’s first human body farm opened in lower Blue Mountains this year. You can donate your body here for the purpose of taphonomic research, ie. for the study of decomposition of bodies after death. This research will help scientists as well as forensic scientists and anthropologists.
What permissions do we need to scatter ashes?
It is important to get permission to scatter ashes from the owners of private land, the Crown Trust for parks and reserves, and from local councils for parks, beaches and playing fields. It must not contravene the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in terms of air or water pollution. Councils and other government authorities will set a time and place when these activities can be undertaken and can impose other conditions. More details can be found here.
Can one bury on private land?
Strict regulations control burial on private property. NSW Health guideline, Burials on private land, sets out the conditions on which approvals may be granted. The area of landholding needs to be five hectares or more and the location has to have been approved for that purpose by the local authority. Burying a person on private land changes the zoning to that of a cemetery, so selling the land could be a problem.
Is embalming necessary?
Embalming is the process of replacing bodily fluids with chemical fluids and is not required by law except in some cases. Embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogenic chemical, formaldehyde. If possible, opt for formaldehyde-free embalming fluids.
Embalming: What you should know
What happens to metals from joint replacements?
The growing medical trend to replace joints has provided an interesting challenge for morticians after someone has been cremated. Many cemeteries send the metals like steel and titanium they collect from cremated bodies for recycling. Adelaide Cemeteries Authority said that they recycle about five tonnes of recycled metals each year and use the $12,000 they make from this recycling for worthy causes. Battery-powered medical aids such as pacemakers, for example, explode inside cremators and are required to be removed.
Can I request a memorial plaque in Ku-ring-gai’s Parks and Reserves?
Council’s Parks and Reserves are primarily for use by the public for recreation and leisure activities. A significant memorial space must be planned, designed and approved by Council before it can be installed. Where a small memorial item is proposed, plaques may be considered if attached to items of appropriate furniture that can benefit park users. The plaque and furniture including installation will be funded by the applicant, through a donation for works. Not all parks and reserves are available for this service.
Memorial tree planting must be pre-approved and memorial plaques are not permitted for trees unless specially authorised by Council. Memorial items will be included in routine maintenance by Council but may be subject to vandalism and damage in the public realm.
A request for any memorial proposals must be directed in writing to Council for consideration and approval. Email email@example.com.
The following books, though written in an American context, may still provide good information on this topic. The last two are available through inter-library loan requests at your local Ku-ring-gai Library.
You can also access many articles on this topic through our library’s online databases. Access is through the EBSCO host. Steps below:
- Log into Ku-ring-gai Library using your Borrower ID and PIN.
- Click on e-information on the left hand panel.
- From the ‘Alphabetical list of database and electronic resources’ drop-down list on the right, select “Academic Search Elite” and click ‘Use this resource’.
- Tick the following: ‘Academic Search Primer’, ‘Consumer Health Complete’, ‘GreenFILE’, ‘Literary Reference Centre Plus’ and ‘Science Reference Centre’.
- Then you can use terms such as “green burial; green funeral; natural burial” etc. to find articles on the topic. They are mostly downloadable PDFs.
Statement of wishes
After you have done your research on the way you would like to leave this earth, it is important to make your wishes known to your family well in advance. A written statement of wishes, such as this, records your preferences and relieves your loved ones from making decisions in their sad and difficult time.