17-20 October 2024
International Convention Centre Sydney

Living green? Prepare to die green! 

Is preserving the environment important to you? Do you try hard every day to limit the impact you leave on the earth? Do you sort your recycling, take your soft plastics to the supermarket or have a compost heap?

Whilst many of us put a lot of care into reducing our ecological footprint unfortunately this can be undermined by the manner in which we are buried.

Not many realise that conventional burials and cremation are terribly environmentally damaging. Plastic is used widely to line the coffins, wrap and stabilise the body, and for other mortuary processes. Coffins and caskets are often made from timber that has been unsustainably felled in old growth forests and take a long time to biodegrade. The hardwood and plastic inhibit natural decomposition meaning the body will decompose anaerobically (without oxygen) releasing greenhouse gases. Graves are dug using heavy machinery and then lined with concrete or steel to shore up the sides so when the grave settles the lawn will be even for easier upkeep. That upkeep will consist of mowing, watering and herbicides usually to benefit non-native vegetation.

Cremations are often thought of as a green alternative to conventional burials but this is a largely incorrect assumption. They use an incredible amount of energy and release smoke and particulate pollution into the atmosphere, including mercury from tooth fillings which can settle into waterways.

Cremated remains are also environmentally problematic as they are very high in sodium and have a pH level of around 12 which is toxic to plant life. Due to the high temperatures they are exposed to they are rendered inorganic and consequently will never biodegrade.

Fortunately, there are alternatives! Aquamation or cremation in a sustainably sourced shroud followed by treatment of the cremains are ways of making cremation more environmentally friendly. Rather than just reducing your impact, you can choose green burial which will actually benefit the earth. Hallmarks of green burial are exclusively sustainable and biodegradable materials, no embalming, shallower graves and ecologically natural grave sites without traditional headstones. This allows the body to decompose naturally, nourishing the surrounding native flora to create a haven for native wildlife.

Green burial is legal and increasingly accessible. All funeral homes or death doulas can assist you with green burial but some are more experienced and willing than others. It is your right to shop around until you find a funeral professional who can support a send-off that aligns with your green values.