More people opting for ‘The Green Goodbye’
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 6:00AM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2013 9:35PM PST
**Story first aired in November 2012
When Derek Hawksley’s mother died two years ago, the Vancouver Island resident built her casket by hand and personally transported her body to the burial site.
"It was something that gave me a reason to carry on because I knew that that's what she really wanted and that's something I shared her beliefs in,” he said.
His mother was a Quaker and a life-long environmentalist who was committed to minimizing her impact on the earth.
And in death, she joined a growing number of Canadians who’ve opted for a so-called green death: a burial without harmful chemicals, concrete or metal, and a natural alternative to the customary cemetery or crematorium.
Natural burials are intended to allow human remains to be returned to the earth to decompose naturally, and contribute to new life. They must meet certain criteria. Bodies are prepared without embalming fluid and are buried in a fully-biodegradable casket or container -- sometimes bodies are given a simple shroud. The human remains are placed directly in the ground with no outside (concrete) grave liner.
The green burial movement took shape in the United Kingdom back in the mid-1990s because of concerns over burial space. Now, woodlands or natural burials represent around 12 per cent of dispositions in the UK.
The Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, B.C., is the first -- and largest – park that offers green burials in the country. It’s the only place in B.C. that allows green burials. There are 65 people buried in a tranquil forested spot above the traditional cemetery grounds, with plans to introduce more spots in the future.
Chris Benesch of Earth’s Option Burial Services specializes in green burials. The families that use their services are looking for environmentally friendly, cost-efficient and simple burials that return their loved ones to nature.
"The green burial offers a return back to nature and a place to go and the body is going back to the earth in a natural sense, and there's no barrier to that from embalming to the container that the body is placed in,” he said.
The only markers are the communal granite memorial stones and plants specially chosen to honour the deceased, Royal Oak Executive Director Stephen Olson said.
"The family can choose plants that are appropriate for the site, but they also have to be indigenous,” Olson said.
While traditional burials are still the norm at the burial park, the interest in green burials is growing.
"As people become less traditional and less bound to ways they did things in the past, they'll start to see this as an option that's acceptable to them,” Olson said.
Olson expects green burials to resonate with younger generations that are more environmentally aware than their parent's generation. And based on research the burial park has done, it now plans to dedicate 50 per cent of the remaining cemetery land -- or 20 acres -- to green burials.
At Royal Oak, families are given the option of a hybrid burial at any standard plot.
Bodies are still prepared without embalming fluid and are buried in a sustainable vessel, but some traditional aspects remain.
Like a conventional burial, a concrete grave liner is used, but it does not have a bottom, allowing the body to have direct contact with the earth. The family has the option of filling the liner space with soil and a permanent memorial plaque is allowed on the site.