Bury black, green is the colour for a funeral that’s eco-friendly

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[from Islington Tribune]

Islington Tribune – by PETER GRUNER
Published: 11 April 2008
David Bellamy will be the top speaker at a conference organised by Finsbury Park-based Natural Death Centre next weekend.
David Bellamy will be the top speaker at a conference organised by Finsbury Park-based Natural Death Centre next weekend.

Bury black, green is the colour for a funeral that’s eco-friendly

Charity offers tips on how to depart the world in a plain cardboard coffin

WORLD-famous conservationist David Bellamy will be top speaker at a conference organised by Finsbury Park-based Natural Death Centre next weekend.
Dr Bellamy will remind his audience he is planning to be buried in one of the Church of England’s woodland sites, “where I hope to grow into a tree, and where one day someone will chop me down and make me into a beautiful piece of furniture”.
The conference marks the extraordinary rise in popularity of green burials – regarded as eccentric just 10 years ago, but now almost mainstream.
In 2000, novelist Barbara Cartland was buried in a cardboard coffin in the grounds of her Hatfield home near a 400-year-old oak. Mourn­ers took leaves from the tree as a memento.
Singer Adam Faith and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick have had green burials.
As cemeteries rapidly fill up and with cremation contributing to air pollution, green burials are seen as a way of returning our bodies to nature without harming the environment.
The aim is to bury the dead, without a headstone or any conventional marker, in a natural environment such as a meadow or woodland.
Most natural burial sites require the use of a biodegradable coffin which may be made from wickerwork, cane, bamboo or even compressed paper.
With bushes, trees and shrubs planted near the graves, eventually the site will return to its natural beauty.
According to Mike Jarvis, director of the Natural Death Centre, in Blackstock Mews, green burials and ceremonies are cheaper than the conventional alternative and can be a lot less formal.
“Normal funeral services in a church can be quite scary and forbidding,” he said. “Everyone wears black. But people can choose less formal arrangements.
“A plain, cardboard coffin can be painted and decorated. Little children can put their handprints or footprints down. They can write jokes or serious messages.
“People will often paint and decorate their own coffin in advance. It can help dispel the fear of death and be very empowering.”
The centre, a small independent charity, has been giving practical advice on green and unconventional funerals for 16 years.
Mike and his colleague, Adeline O’Keeffe, are the only paid workers, but there is a team of volunteers.
He said: “The first natural burial ground opened in 1993 in Carlisle. Today there are 228 all over the UK, with seven in Greater London, including Epping Forest.
“Islington is difficult because there is very little green space but Islington Cemetery at East Finchley is planning to provide a small area for natural burials.
“They are sending a representative to the conference.”
Best of all, green burials can be a lot cheaper than the conventional option, ranging from £100 for a basic cardboard coffin to £700 for something more elaborate.
Mr Jarvis added: “People may be looking for a humanist funeral or a non-Christian spiritual ceremony.
“The burial grounds themselves can be owned by individuals, charitable trusts, wildlife trusts or local authorities.”
The London Green Funeral Exhibition and conference is on Saturday, April 19, in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn, from 10.30am to 4pm.
For more details about green burials, contact Natural Death Centre, at 12A Blackstock Mews, on 020 7359 8391.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. The green burial movement’s new environmental standards for burials are excellent and will presumably soon become the norm. But as new initiative, we should not expect its ideas to be perfect from day 1. In fact, we find that green burial often considers the environmental aspects at the expense of the human ones. Environmental considerations are important, but not everything.

    Actually, they are the easier ones – we must just return to what mankind did until very recently. The human aspects – psychological, social, spiritual – take more creativity and sensitivity: creating attractive, meaningful new ways of memorializing; discovering how to guarantee grave perpetuity in an overpopulated and ever-changing world; finding an acceptable new aesthetic to replace the gloomy old Victorian one we have inherited.

    In its forgivable enthusiasm, the green burial movement sometimes appears to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, to be blind to non-environmental aspects of burial. For example:

    1. Forbidding enduring stone markers. Firstly, a stone is not intrinsically environmentally-unfriendly, it is just natural stone. If the gloomy aesthetics of Victorian cemeteries have negative associations for us, let us change the style, go back to rugged old menhirs or boulders for example. But let’s not get rid of them for lack of imagination of anything better. Symbolic markers that resist time provide a subtle but important sense of continuity and a hope of transcendence to survivors and to cultures. And they do not hurt the earth.

    Secondly, it is naïve to assume that alternative marking methods such as GPS will be compatible and usable in a century or more, just as Windows 98 is useless just ten years later. Anyway, there is a fundamental psychological difference between gazing at the name or image of a relative on a grave marker and looking through the forest for some anonymous location that has no connection with the person lying there.

    2. Substituting grave markers with trees. However environmentally desirable and symbolic a tree planting is, a tree is hardly more immortal than we are, it will probably die within a century or less, and above all it is ultimately anonymous. Even in the medium-term, a woodland cemetery where trees are planted instead of placing stone markers will evolve into a beautiful, environmentally-friendly but altogether anonymous forest. It will not be a cemetery anymore than a forgotten mass-grave in the forests of Eastern Europe is a cemetery. Survivors will wander equally aimlessly through beautiful forests without anything specific to identify their loved ones with. Simple solution! Why not an old engraved boulder and a tree?

    3. Land consumption. There are now 7 billion of us and we are still multiplying. Burying all of us in low-density green cemeteries will consume too much valuable land, arable, urban, or wild – in a pinch, the needs of the living must come first. (If we want perpetual graves and not the recycled grave plots Europeans have to accept, the space needs will be even greater.)

    4. Perpetuity. The green burial concept does nothing new to guarantee the perpetuity of our graves. If land needs for the uses of the living or land speculation already threaten traditional cemeteries, what of marker-less woodland cemeteries which in a few decades will not even look like cemeteries? Add a few imposing menhirs to mark these graves and reuse of the land already becomes psychologically and socially less thinkable.

    Although we are on the right track with the elimination of ground pollutants in burial, we have yet to solve the land space needs and the grave perpetuity questions. Above all, if we wish to return to truly traditional ways, we must find a way to ensure the graves of our families rest undisturbed in perpetuity, without sacrificing the earth’s environment.

    Thomas Friese
    perpetuasgarden.org

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