What is a Natural Burial?
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.
How does it work?
A human corpse normally decays within 10 to 12 years. We are made up mostly of water (64%), protein (20%), carbohydrates (1%), mineral salts (5%) and fat (10%). The rate of decay is influenced by availability of nutrients, pH level of the soil, climate, soil lithography, and burial practices. The body’s components become integrated into the natural ecosystem.
About Natural Burial Grounds
Are there markers to identify where the bodies have been buried?
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 are the costs associated with Natural Burial?
A natural burial may be a 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.
Are there any dangers burying people directly into the ground?
One of the important components of our standards is an environmental assessment which will determine the suitability of any proposed site, and an official environmental assessment of the capacity of the natural cemetery.
Natural Burials in Canada
Are there any natural burial grounds in Canada?
In Canada, there are currently three sites: Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, British Columbia, Union Cemetery in Cobourg Ontario, and Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton Ontario.
There are several groups with plans to establish grounds in other areas. Contact us if you would like to promote your efforts on our site.
We know of groups on the Sunshine Coast, BC, and in the Eastern Townships in Quebec who are currently working on setting up natural burial grounds.
How can I set up a Natural Burial Ground in my area?
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.
What are the new disposition technologies Promession and Resomation?
Promession is a Swedish technology that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze bodies before they are shattered, dried and buried (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promession). Resomation uses hot water, potassium hydroxide and pressure to dissolve into chemical components and ash (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resomation). The Natural Burial Association believes that while these technologies may have their merits, a natural burial has the strongest environmental benefits.
What happens when a body is embalmed?
Embalming is accomplished through a chemical fixation of the cell protein when formaldehyde is pumped into the body displacing the blood. Formaldehyde reacts with the solid albumins in the cell and converts them to gels. When this takes place, the bacteria in the body are destroyed, delaying decomposition. Under favourable conditions an embalmed corpse will remain fully intact for decades following death.
Why are embalmed bodies not permitted on natural burial grounds?
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 consequences not only for the embalmer, who is exposed to noxious chemicals, but also to the ground where it is interred.
Is it better to burn out than fade away?
Not necessarily. Cremation consumes polluting fuels, and releases toxins into the atmosphere.
According to Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s chief medical health officer, the provincial government should consider regulating emissions from crematoriums because of possible health risks, saying there is potential for release of many contaminants including mercury, cadmium and lead. In the meantime, he suggested that crematoriums should not be located in residential neighbourhoods.
Environment Canada’s Emissions Inventory Guidebook (1999) states “The major emissions from crematories are nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, other heavy metals, and some POPs. The emission rates depend on the design of the crematory, combustion temperature, gas retention time, duct design, duct temperature and any control devices".
What about the production of greenhouse gases?
To burn a body (and its container) for two to four hours at temperatures ranging from 750 – 1150 degrees Celsius requires electricity, derived mostly from natural gas, which produces greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxides and nitrogen oxides. It has been estimated that every cremation takes 27 litres of natural gas per body.
And other emissions?
2005 Great Lakes Binational Toxic Strategy Report’s Mercury Emissions from Crematoria states that 2,436 kg of mercury are released each year in the U.S. by crematoriums. To put that in perspective, the Mercury Policy Project says it takes only 1/70 of a teaspoon of mercury to contaminate a 25 acre lake so much that its fish cannot be eaten (At the time of this report, Canadians only had mercury stats from 1995).