Good way to go

Fu­ner­als are our fi­nal chance to choose to make a sus­tain­able choice.

Element - - Well Being - By Amelia Reynolds.

The most com­mon cas­kets in NZ are MDF cas­kets with plas­tic han­dles; em­balm­ing flu­ids con­tain toxic formalde­hyde; and burial at six feet un­der doesn’t al­low for a more nat­u­ral oxy­gen-led process of de­com­po­si­tion. A nat­u­ral burial, on the other hand, is com­pletely sus­tain­able and sends the body back to the flora, fauna and ecosys­tem.

Nat­u­ral ceme­ter­ies first reap­peared on the scene in the early 1990s, con­cep­tu­alised by Ken West in Carlisle UK, who re­ceived an OBE for a life­time’s work in this area. The UK’s Nat­u­ral Death Cen­tre, the Na­tive Wood­land or­gan­i­sa­tion, and the USA’s Green Burial Coun­cil are all ex­tend­ing re­search and knowl­edge across the English­s­peak­ing world.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by Durham Univer­sity, the pop­u­lar­ity of nat­u­ral buri­als is grow­ing three times faster in the United King­dom than when cre­ma­to­ri­ums were first in­tro­duced 150 years ago and more than 260 nat­u­ral burial sites now ex­ist in Bri­tain.

The New Zealand move­ment is guided by a num­ber of par­ties, in­clud­ing the not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Nat­u­ral Buri­als (nat­u­ral­buri­als.co.nz) , es­tab­lished by Mark Black­ham in 1999, Lynda Han­nah of Liv­ing Lega­cies (liv­in­gle­ga­cies.co.nz), and Ta­mara Linnhoff of the Good Fu­neral Guide (good­fu­ner­al­guide.co.nz).

The first NZ eco-in­tern­ment was at Auck­land’s Waikumete back in 1999. In 2007, in part­ner­ship with Nat­u­ral Buri­als, Welling­ton City Coun­cil opened a ded­i­cated nat­u­ral burial area at its Makara Ceme­tery, which, to date, has over 85 buri­als. In six years the ceme­tery grew from an ini­tial eight buri­als in the first year, to around three to four buri­als a month, around 1% of Welling­ton’s to­tal buri­als. Nat­u­ral burial sites are also open in Motueka, New Ply­mouth and the Kapiti Coast, a new space is due to open shortly at Auck­land’s Waikumete

“It seemed like it was such a nat­u­ral thing to do.”

and re­gional coun­cils con­sid­er­ing sites in Palmer­ston North, Can­ter­bury, the Wairarapa and Waikato.

Nat­u­ral Buri­als’ Mark Black­ham lost a child at birth and found that he and his wife were un­able to bury him in an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly man­ner. “It seemed like it was such a nat­u­ral thing to do.” De­ter­mined to make nat­u­ral buri­als a choice for New Zealan­ders, he dis­cov­ered that his idea was sup­ported by oth­ers around him and Nat­u­ral Buri­als was founded.

In a nat­u­ral burial, if the body is not to be wrapped in shroud, then a sus­tain­able cas­ket must be used. The body must not be em­balmed in toxic chem­i­cals, and is buried within the first 750cm of the soil, rather than the con­ven­tional six feet clay burial, to as­sist the break­down of the body and en­cour­age the restora­tion of the ceme­tery site into a full na­tive or nat­u­ral eco-sys­tem. Memo­ri­al­i­sa­tion al­ter­na­tives to a head­stone in­clude a tree above the grave, a nat­u­ral stone or a wooden carv­ing.

Around the world, nat­u­ral burial sites vary from wood­lands to wild­flower mead­ows, or­chards and park­lands of na­tive flora. While ‘re­turn­ing to the earth’ is key, over­seas nat­u­ral burial grounds place equal em­pha­sis on the nur­tur­ing as­pect of a nat­u­ral burial ground as a spe­cial site in which the be­reaved can visit a loved one for some quiet, peace­ful con­tem­pla­tion, sur­rounded by beauty.

A hand­ful of niche busi­nesses have popped up in the last ten or so years, spe­cial­is­ing in sus­tain­able and nat­u­ral burial cer­ti­fied cas­kets to sat­isfy in­creas­ingly con­scious con­sumers.

State of Grace (sta­te­of­grace.net.nz) and the Nat­u­ral Fu­neral Com­pany (then­at­u­ral­fu­ner­al­com­pany.co.nz) are Auck­land-based fu­neral homes spe­cial­is­ing in nat­u­ral and sus­tain­able fu­ner­als. The phi­los­o­phy of both fu­neral homes is to re­turn to the prac­tice of an ear­lier time, when fam­ily mem­bers were more in­volved in the process, and both stock a range of eco-friendly cas­kets from a num­ber of high pro­file de­sign­ers, built from a range of sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als – from card­board to bam­boo to macro­carpa. More tra­di­tional fu­neral di­rec­tors are also well versed in the eco-fu­neral op­tions avail­able, with al­most all now of­fer­ing sus­tain­able cas­kets.

Ten­der Rest (ten­der­rest.co.nz), es­tab­lished by An­drew Hub­bard, of­fer all sus­tain­able cas­kets with a fo­cus on af­ford­abil­ity and per­son­al­i­sa­tion, of­fer­ing a range of prints and bespoke de­signs all us­ing ecofriendly inks. Ma­te­ri­als used in­clude un­treated New Zealand pine, sus­tain­able bam­boo, and 100% re­cy­cled pa­per pulp. Cas­kets are lined with sheep wool and nat­u­ral fi­bres. In re­cent years, Ten­der­Rest has won a West­pac Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Award.

Re­turn to Sender (re­turn­tosender.co.nz), es­tab­lished by Greg Holdsworth in 2005, aims to cater to “the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple look­ing for less tra­di­tional, aes­thet­i­cally de­signed and en­vi­ron­men­tally prefer­able coffins want­ing to make a sig­nif­i­cant, pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of fu­ner­als both in New Zealand and over­seas.” The com­pany, which won the 2012 Sus­tain­able De­sign & In­no­va­tion Award at the NZI National Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Net­work Awards, aims for per­son­al­i­sa­tion and has a range of cas­kets dec­o­rated with prints.

Other op­tions in­clude mother and daugh­ter Donna and Tia Wa­iariki of Know the Flax (knowthe­flax. co.nz) , who pro­duce one-off hand-wo­ven flax cas­kets, Go Wil­low! (gow­il­low.co.nz) which handweaves wil­low cas­kets, and EcoCoffins (ecocoffins. co.nz), which of­fers tra­di­tional look­ing card­board cas­kets.

Ac­cord­ing to Black­ham, coun­cils have proved a chal­lenge to con­vince, voic­ing con­cerns around cost and a fear of the un­known. Nat­u­ral burial or not, Black­ham feels that Coun­cils need to ac­knowl­edge and meet the de­mand for choice in death that peo­ple are ask­ing for, “It’s about bring­ing death closer to life and mak­ing us more com­fort­able with it,” he says. For those who are un­able to ac­cess a nat­u­ral burial site, a more sus­tain­able send-off is still within reach. The Good Fu­neral Guide’s Ta­mara Linnhoff rec­om­mends that wishes are dis­cussed with the fu­neral di­rec­tor about sus­tain­able op­tions. “Also re­search on­line, to en­sure a farewell ap­pro­pri­ately re­spect­ful of one’s sus­tain­able choices dur­ing life.”

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