New Brunswick

Dust to dust: Mount Allison student studies eco-friendly burials

A Mount Allison University student is digging up ways for people to have environmentally friendly funerals.

'That natural return to the earth always just seemed like the simple solution,' university student says

More people are considering green burials as an alternative to current burial practices. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

A Mount Allison University student is digging up ways for people to have environmentally friendly funerals.

Hanna Longard, a fifth-year biology and philosophy student, will spend her summer engaging in conversations surrounding "green death care."

"Environmentally friendly funerals or green death care refers to practices that enable the natural decomposition of the body rather than inhibiting that natural decomposition the way a lot of our western practices currently do," she said.

Some of those practices include cremation, which isn't exactly environmentally-friendly.

"Instead of taking up space on land, the body ends up taking up space in the atmosphere as excess greenhouse gases as well as different toxins that get released from our bodies," she said.

Instead, she said people should turn their attention to other burial options, such as a green burial. This has been described as returning the body back to the earth as simply as possible.

To do this, people can use biodegradable materials that can be composted, avoid the embalming of bodies, being buried closer to the root system and having minimal grave markers.

Hanna Longard, a Mount Allison University student, will spend her summer talking about green death care. (Mount Allison University)

"I'm interested in how the physiology of our bodies fits into the ecology of our environment," she said.

"How does our body relate to the environment? And how do our current practices not reflect that or inhibit that relationship?"

The Nova Scotia native will have different discussions with people from backgrounds that include funeral practitioners, palliative care workers, town councillors and members of the community. She's actively recruiting in Sackville, Mahone Bay, N.S., and Wakefield, Que.

"It is a topic that a lot of people do want to talk about," she said. "They have a lot of ideas to develop and questions to ask about this topic."

As part of her research, Longard recently visited a green cemetery outside Toronto.

"The cemetery offered a natural burial, compostable caskets, no individual markers but instead a communal monument to those buried there," she said.

"The facility I visited was also working with local conservation efforts around local waterways. It was a good benchmark for where future cemeteries could go. I think there's a lot of potential for future growth in this area."

Returning to the earth

Longard said her interest in environmentally friendly funeral practices started as a child, learning about family gardens and composting.

"My parents believe that we give back to the earth as much as possible and also did not shy away from sharing death with their kids, which I am grateful for," she said.

Once her study is done, the university student plans to write reports to funeral homes, town councils and conservation groups and provide recommendations on how to promote green death care.

She's hoping more people will engage in the topic once she completes her findings. 

"That natural return to the earth always just seemed like the simple solution," she said.

With files from Information Morning Moncton