Green burials cheaper and legal, says funeral director

More people are looking into "greener burials" to minimize their carbon footprint. There are seven cemeteries in Ontario that have designated space for green burials, including Parkview Cemetary in Waterloo.

Parkview Cemetery in Waterloo offers 108 green plots

More people are considering green burials as an alternative to current burial practices. In Ontario, there are seven cemeteries that allow for green burials including one in Waterloo region and one in the Niagara region. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

More people are looking at ways to minimize their carbon footprint — even in the afterlife — by looking to the growing trend of "green burials" as an alternative to current burial practices.

"Conventional burials and cremation practices carry an environmental impact that some people wish to avoid," Ellen Newman told Craig Norris, host of CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

She is a licensed funeral director specializing in green burials. She also helped start the Good Green Death Project, a community group that advocates for greener burials.

Newman explained that green burials use materials that have the least amount of impact on the environment.

"It's a concept that will best allow the human body to decompose in it's natural and easy way as possible."

This means that the body would not be embalmed and is buried in the ground in a biodegradable container, with no concrete vault or grave liner.

Green cemeteries in Ontario

The movement of green burials gained a lot of traction in the U.K. in the 90s, said Newman, the trend then moved to North America in the early to mid-2000s.

In Ontario, there are seven cemeteries that allow for green burials, including one in Waterloo region and one in Niagara region. Parkview Cemetery in Waterloo, for example, offers 108 natural burial plots that opened in the fall of 2017. 

Newman said in a typical cemetery, there are 4,500 litres of formaldehyde embalming fluid and 2,000 tonnes of concrete for every 0.40 hectares.

Generally, green burial plots are unmarked or share a communal memorial and the grounds are not chemically managed.

Parkview Cemetery in Waterloo opened 108 natural burial plots since fall of 2017. (City of Waterloo)

More affordable, but cemeteries set bylaws

Newman, who also sits on the board of directors of the Green Burial Society of Canada, said green burials are more affordable.

The plot of land will cost the same, but individuals will save money by using a simpler casket, wrapping the body in a shroud instead of embalming and going without a headstone.

"The average cost of a conventional funeral is about $8,000 to $10,000," said Newman. "A green burial will probably be about half."

Green burials in North America are legal, said Newman, pointing out that Jewish and Muslim burials are technically green because they don't embalm the body and the body is normally buried in a simple casket.

However, cemeteries set their own bylaws, which may restrict how green a burial can be.

"For example, a particular cemetery may not accept a body wrapped in a shroud," Newman said.

"Some cemeteries may have sections where they insist on a burial vault."