En­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fu­ner­als?

New Brunswick stu­dent says they’re within reach

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - LIFE - ALEX COOKE

SACKVILLE, N.B. — A New Brunswick uni­ver­sity stu­dent re­search­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious fu­ner­als says she hopes her re­search will help ease the dis­com­fort some peo­ple feel when talk­ing about death.

Hanna Lon­gard, a fifth-year stu­dent at Mount Al­li­son Uni­ver­sity in Sackville, N.B., is vis­it­ing ceme­ter­ies in Eastern Canada and con­sult­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers, fu­neral di­rec­tors and other peo­ple within the so-called “death-care” in­dus­try in an ef­fort to fig­ure out how peo­ple can give back to the Earth even af­ter death.

“There is a fear that if you talk about death, it makes it real,” Lon­gard said.

“The fear comes from dif­fer­ent places for dif­fer­ent peo­ple. But as soon as I start hav­ing these con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple, they re­al­ize how many thoughts and ques­tions they have on this topic.”

It may seem like a mor­bid way to spend a sum­mer va­ca­tion, but Lon­gard said it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know they have op­tions when it comes to how they ’re buried, aside from con­ven­tional prac­tices, which of­ten in­volve pack­ag­ing and tidy­ing up the body in ways that re­lease toxic chem­i­cals into the ground.

She noted that cre­ma­tion, some­times viewed as an eco-friendly al­ter­na­tive, is hardly bet­ter.

“Peo­ple typ­i­cally be­lieve cre­ma­tion can be en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly be­cause you’re not tak­ing up space in a ceme­tery plot on land,” she said. “But be­cause of the emis­sions and tox­ins re­leased, you ac­tu­ally are tak­ing up space, but in the at­mos­phere in­stead.”

She said peo­ple can make their buri­als greener by re­frain­ing from em­balm­ing, for­go­ing con­crete or metal vaults and us­ing only com­postable ma­te­ri­als, like a pine box or a li­nen shroud.

Lon­gard said it’s also im­por­tant to be aware of where the burial ma­te­ri­als are com­ing from: If you or­der a pine box that was made across the coun­try, the en­ergy it takes to trans­port it to your fi­nal rest­ing place could can­cel out any en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits.

As part of her re­search, Lon­gard vis­ited Duffin Mead­ows Ceme­tery in Pick­er­ing, Ont., which she said is a great ex­am­ple of a green ceme­tery: it of­fers com­postable cas­kets and com­mu­nal mon­u­ments in­stead of in­di­vid­ual grave mark­ers.

She also went to Sun­rise Park In­ter-Faith Ceme­tery just out­side Hal­i­fax, N.S., and said that while the fa­cil­ity isn’t strictly green, it does of­fer green burial op­tions and is con­sid­er­ing how to ex­pand them.

Lon­gard said the rea­sons for pur­su­ing green death care are dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one.

“There’s many dif­fer­ent mo­ti­va­tors for green death care, and some peo­ple are mo­ti­vated ex­clu­sively by the sta­tis­tics of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the con­ven­tional prac­tices,” she said.

“But for a lot of peo­ple, it does seem to have a more of a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion in that they are in­ter­ested in a re-in­te­gra­tion with the Earth, and that they feel that their body is part of the Earth.”

Orig­i­nally from Nova Sco­tia, Lon­gard grew up in an en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious house­hold and said that she’s al­ways had an in­ter­est in giv­ing back to the Earth.

Yves Berthi­aume, a fu­neral di­rec­tor in Hawkes­bury, Ont. and the pres­i­dent of the Fu­neral Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, said most fu­neral homes have op­tions for those in­ter­ested in hav­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fu­neral — the is­sue is that peo­ple don’t ask for them.

Yet he’s con­fi­dent the in­dus­try will be able to adapt if green fu­neral prac­tices be­come more com­mon­place. But for now, he said his fu­neral home doesn’t ad­ver­tise their green fu­neral op­tions be­cause of the lack of de­mand.

“There is a cost for the fu­neral home to get ready to be able to serve the fam­ily with a green fu­neral,” he said, ex­plain­ing that some homes carry more eco-friendly em­balm­ing flu­ids and other green prod­ucts that may be more ex­pen­sive.

Berthi­aume said the stigma sur­round­ing top­ics like fu­ner­als and death is likely con­tribut­ing to the lack of pub­lic knowl­edge about en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly death­care prac­tices.

But Erik Lees, a past pres­i­dent of the Green Burial So­ci­ety of Canada, said it’s up to fu­neral di­rec­tors to be more proac­tive in ed­u­cat­ing their clients on green fu­ner­als.

“No one’s go­ing to ask for it if they don’t know it’s avail­able, or if it’s not pro­moted or ex­plained by the fu­neral home,” he said.

“The con­sumer needs to be ed­u­cated, but the ser­vice providers also need to be ed­u­cated.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Death is a topic that tends to make peo­ple un­com­fort­able — but a New Brunswick uni­ver­sity stu­dent hopes her sum­mer re­search pro­ject will help shift the con­ver­sa­tion. Sun­rise Park In­ter-Faith Ceme­tery, a Hal­i­fax-area grave­yard of­fer­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly burial op­tions, is seen in an un­dated hand­out im­age.

KRISTA LON­GARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Hanna Lon­gard, a fifth-year stu­dent at Mount Al­li­son Uni­ver­sity in Sackville, N.B., is re­search­ing ways that en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious Cana­di­ans can give back to the en­vi­ron­ment even af­ter death.

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