From The Toronto Star May 2014

By Judith Wouk 2013

Over the millennia we have put our dead to rest in caves, charnal grounds/”sky burials” and in the earth, sometimes moving the bones after the body decomposed. In North America this has narrowed to a small range of choices, primarily burial and cremation, which often have a high environmental cost.

Green burial is one way to reverse this trend. It is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that furthers legitimate ecological aims such as the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat. Many methods, old and new, have been used or proposed under the title “green burials”: burial in the ground without embalming, elaborate casket or grave liners; cremation; resomation (alkaline hydrolysis in a solution) and cryomation/promession (freeze-drying). Each has advantages and disadvantages to the funeral industry, the public, and the environment.

The choice of green burial, also called direct or natural burial, does not affect mourning rites, although it is usually associated with an immediate burial, no or limited viewing, and a memorial service at a later date.

Green burial usually includes:
embalming, if used at all, done with organic non-toxic fluids. Refrigeration is often used instead;
interment in either a cloth shroud or a biodegradable coffin finished in natural oil with a biodegradable interior and no metal. These come in a variety of costs. No grave liners, and no concrete vaults;
burial to support a natural eco-system, often in woodland settings in “natural cemeteries” which do not use pesticides;
headstones (which consume energy during their production and transportation), if used, are fashioned from native fieldstones; shrubs and trees, rocks or native plants may be used instead.

The Green Burial Council, , which certifies cemeteries, funeral homes and products, does not list any certified services in the Ottawa area. Some funeral homes may provide environmentally-friendly options.

What you can do:
Ask questions about the environmental impact of your choices with regard to final disposition of remains. Choose a funeral home that responds in an appropriate manner.
Remember that the “greenest” choice is not always the least expensive
Consider an In Memoriam donation to an environmental fund
Help FISO compile more detailed information on methods of dealing with human remains as it relates to their environmental impact in Ottawa. If you have information on this from a local funeral home, cemetery, or religious organization, please contact us at

By Don McCuaig and Mary Nash (1)

The above provocative headline was prompted because of an article in the London Free Press (Dec. 5, 2008) by Ian Gillespie which used 'green' in the headline, but only in a very narrow sense. Today in Europe, the US and Canada, green burials are increasingly being considered. Based on the premise that it is not mankind's inherent right to pollute the earth, sober thought is focusing on our funeral practices and on the responsible disposal of human remains.

In 2006, the the US, in over 22,500 cemeteries, there were buried:

-- nearly 1million gallons of embalming fluids, mainly formaldehyde and formalin:
-- over 100,000 tons of steel;
-- almost 3000 tons of copper and bronze;
and more than 30 million board feet of wood, often tropical hardwood. (2)

The impact of toxic chemicals on the environment is readily apparent. Should you think that cremation is totally benign, please realize that from 1 to nearly 6 grams of mercury could be released during a cremation, that is from a minimum of 1000 to nearly 8000 pounds of this chemical going into the air in the US alone. Using the usual 1 to 10 ratio for Canada, this is significant. The average cremation uses about 20 liters of fuel oil, with the resultant discharge of combustion gases into the atmosphere. In England, with about 600,000 deaths per year and over 200 crematoria, nearly 200 million pound sterling has been spent to fit these crematoria with filters, consequently adding about 60 pound sterling to the cost of each cremation. In England, the rate of cremation is now about 70%. (3)

One solution to the foregoing is GREEN burials in GREEN cemeteries. Increasingly there is a movement to 'natural' cemeteries where no embalmed bodies or metal coffins are allowed. Burials occur either directly in the earth with the body wrapped in a natural fibre shroud, or placed in a coffin of untreated wood. Ashes may be buried in biodegradable containers. While green cemeteries are not common in North America, there are more than 200 of them in the United Kingdom. There are a few green cemeteries in the US, notably in South Carolina, New York, California and Texas. There are currently 2 cemeteries offering green burials in Canada, Royal Oak Burial Park near Victoria, BC and Cobourg Union Cemetery in Cobourg, ON.

Such cemeteries are frequently treed fields with creeks, ponds, walking paths and a minimum of roads. Markers are often naturally occuring flat stones, sometimes inscribed with details about the deceased. After burial the gravesite may be planted with native grasses, trees or shrubs and eventually allowed to return to a natural state. There is minimal maintenance required and certainly no lawn mowing, or use of herbicides or pesticides.

Interested cemeteries are welcome to contact Michel Cabardos, Manager, at the Cobourg Union Cemetery at As of Aug. 2010, 19 plots were sold and 5 burials had been held.

1. Don McCuaig is Chair (Outreach) of the Memorial Society of London
Mary Nash is President, Funeral Information Society of Ottawa
2. Green Burial Council, 550 D St. Michaels Drive, Santa Fe, NM 87508, 888-966-3330 Email: