A small rural community an hour and a half northwest of Toronto soon could be home to a natural burial cemetery—where people are laid to rest without embalming, a casket or a headstone.
“We’re using native plant material as part of the memorial to create a protected green space,” said Mike Salisbury, co-founder of The Natural Burial Cooperative Inc. “I don’t know if I’d want to live beside a conventional cemetery, but in this case it’s going to be a forest with maintained pathways,” he said.
A 100-acre private property along the banks of the Saugeen River in Paisley, Ont., is the proposed site for the cemetery.
Salisbury, a landscape architect and Guelph city councillor, said the owner of the land approached him when he wanted to do something environmentally friendly with it.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to put Paisley on the map,” he said. “It is a revolutionary way of creating and conserving green space.”
Natural burial involves a biodegradable casket or shroud and instead of a headstone, a tree is planted on each grave.
“The key difference with natural burial is using the trees and shrubs as part of the memorial,” he added. “But the actual process of burying in a natural way is both how it has been done since the beginning of time up until 100 years ago, and also still done in a lot of rural areas … and continues to be done in most of the world.”
Formaldehyde, the primary ingredient in embalming fluids and a potential carcinogen (it’s on the European Union’s list for possible banning) is another concern.
According to The Natural Burial Cooperative, North Americans bury nearly 3.8 million litres of embalming fluid every year, some of which eventually leaches out and runs into surrounding soil and groundwater.
Although not enough research has been done to make definitive judgments about formaldehyde’s effect on the environment, many environmentalists would rather not see chemicals bleeding into the ecosystem.
The cost of an average funeral service and casket in Canada is close to $6,000, according to the Funeral Service Association of Canada. Salisbury said a natural burial would cut that cost in half.
Source: The Edmonton Journal