Natural burials could one day become Dunedin's only method of interment, and the rules for the city's cemeteries are to be rewritten to allow them, a Dunedin City Council staff member says.
And, in the meantime, the council could even look to accommodate those wanting to opt for a natural burial over more traditional methods, council community and recreation services manager Mick Reece has confirmed.
Mr Reece was speaking at this week's meeting of the community development committee, as councillors considered a staff report recommending the development of a new draft policy for natural burials.
The policy would be incorporated into a review of the council's manual for cemetery operations, beginning next month, and results would be presented to the committee for further approval.
Mr Reece told the meeting that interest in natural burials appeared to be growing.
The council received 20 submissions during last year's consultation on the 2010-11 annual plan, from people - including members of the Advocates for Natural Burials Dunedin group - calling for space to be provided for natural burials in the city.
Mr Reece told councillors there was already a "plethora" of options available across the city's cemeteries, but natural burials could one day prove the most popular.
"There's no doubt in future this may be the only way of burial," he said.
Natural burials saw bodies placed into shallow graves - usually in a casket made of untreated soft wood - with plots filled with nutrient-rich soil, trees and other plantings, to encourage natural decomposition.
The practice appealed to people who wanted to be "returned to the earth", provided a simple and environmentally-friendly form of burial and left behind burial grounds "of beauty and growth", Advocates group member Maureen Howard told last year's annual plan hearing.
A report by council community and recreation policy team leader Lisa Wheeler to this week's meeting, outlined details of the cemetery manual's review: A sloping section of Dunedin's Green Park cemetery had been identified as suitable for natural burials, the practice had the support of the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, and other councils already had policies to accommodate the practice.
Submitters to last year's annual plan had urged the council to follow in the footsteps of other centres, including Wellington, which allowed natural burials in one of its cemeteries.
Mr Reece suggested it might be possible to accommodate anyone wanting a natural burial in the meantime.
Burials had to comply with council's existing cemeteries manual, but provided a natural burial did so staff would "negotiate a solution".