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Burial out of the box.

"OUT OF THE BOX" AND "BURIAL" aren't normally used in the same sentence. When people think about their final resting place, what usually comes to mind are ornate caskets, tombstones and fine-trimmed lawns, or maybe ashes in an elegant urn that are either scattered or interred.

But thinkers like Mary Anne Brinckman, founding editor of OWL and Chickadee magazines, are looking for something else. "The idea of burning my body up using a lot of fossil fuel, or the idea of having it embalmed and buried under lawns with formal flower beds nearby, has always seemed plain wrong to me," says Brinckman. She dreams of being buried in a natural place among trees and grasses, where birds and butterflies live. Brickman adds, "Just not too soon, I hope."


Natural burial is a way of combining an ecofriendly interment with land conservation. It's the return to the Earth of a body free of embalming chemicals, in a biodegradable shroud or local wood casket. A native tree or shrub may be planted, or a flat native stone left, to mark the grave in a natural, protected burial ground.

Natural burial is not a new concept, but the move to simpler, greener dispositions is gaining momentum. There are currently over 200 natural burial grounds in the UK, five in the US, and a sprinkling in Europe and New Zealand. Canada will enter the scene in the fall of 2008, when the Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, BC, begins offering a natural burial option.

Stephen Olson, executive director of Royal Oak Burial Park, says he gets half-a-dozen inquiries a week from people of varying ages, religions and ways of life who want to know about costs and timing. Olson credits West Coast openness for residents' acceptance of the idea and for their recognition that cremation, like traditional burial, places a burden on nature. "The cremation rate in Victoria is the highest in North America at 92 per cent," he says, "so potential clients may be considering the environmental impact of the fossil fuel consumption of so many cremations."

And then there's the out-of-the-box box to consider. Traditional caskets are popular because of our tradition of wanting to prevent the deceased from mixing with the surrounding earth. Embalming, which delays decomposition for years by replacing body fluids with formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents, is a source of pollutants. According to Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, New York, the average US cemetery buries roughly 9343 litres of embalming fluid, 219 tonnes of steel and 42,333 metres of high-quality wood used in caskets in a single hectare, whereas a body wrapped in a shroud or contained in a plain wood box decomposes quickly, leaves behind few pollutants and thus helps create new life.

Time unfortunately ran out for one of the concept's best-known proponents. A few months before her death, author June Callwood wrote, "Natural burial is a great idea. If you get the ground ready, we'll be there in a minute or two."

Over the last year, global attention has been focusing on ways that individuals can live greener, cleaner, healthier lives. Interest is now also turning to how the end of our lives can be more sustainable.

Think of natural burial, if you will, as the ultimate gift back to the land.

Janet McCausland, the executive director of the Natural Burial Association, intends to hang around until natural burial is available in Ontario.
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Title Annotation:green and natural way of burial
Author:McCausland, Janet
Publication:Alternatives Journal
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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