Pushing Daisies: Death Goes Green

Posted on April 14, 2009, a guest post by Shannon Curry

Death, my Buddhist teacher likes to remind me, is a natural part of life. This is true until you get buried or cremated. At that point the multi-billion dollar funeral industry takes over, providing the deceased with satin-lined wood coffins festooned with brass accents (for the discriminating loved one), cement gravestones, cement liners and a little eau de formaldehyde and other toxins to preserve the glow of the living.

Then the wasteland of hazardous chemicals and non-biodegradable materials that is the cemetery where you lay is mowed and watered, fertilized and sprayed with pesticides. Gravestones fall into disrepair and the cemetery fills up like a tin of sardines.

I’ve always said that I want to be cremated, thinking it was a greener option. But according to an article published in the Vancouver Sun 180 litres of gasoline is used to stoke the fires for every corpse that goes up in smoke and chemicals like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and persistent organic pollutants are released into the air that we, the living, breathe.

Green burials are becoming de rigueur in response to this deathly problem. Here’s a brief how-to for performing a green burial:


  • Purchase an eco-pod made of recycled newspapers or a coffin made from locally sourced wood
  • Eschew regular toxic preservatives like formaldehyde in favour of non-toxic organic preservatives. Or forgo preservatives altogether in favour of the natural “dead” look. (Note: this will reduce the viewing time.)
  • Select a natural marker such as a native tree or shrub, or a flat engraved, indigenous rock
  • Opt to be buried in a cemetery that doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers, which uses indigenous ground cover and allows the land to return to nature (and that will also handle the above process for you)

Currently only one such cemetery exists in Canada—the Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich, on Vancouver Island. Forget waiting lists for daycares, given the press this cemetery has received since opening their ‘green’ section late last year you might want to get on a waiting list for a burial spot.

At the first green burial at Royal Oak the deceased was placed in a fully biodegradable container, sans preservative, in a hole without the typical concrete liner or vault. This spring the cemetery will plant local groundcovers and a native tree and slowly as more green burials are performed there, the area will blend in with the surrounding forest. All this will cost your loved ones at least half as much as a regular burial. Think of it this way: a green funeral will make up for the extra expense of eating organic all those years.

The only thing more natural (and cheaper) would be to dig a hole in the forest, throw in the body, cover it up and voila! This is what my Dad wants (I got my environmental sensitivities from him). Unfortunately for him, it’s illegal.

Our green responsibilities don’t end when we die. Green burial ensures that your last act on Earth is a natural one; a return to the soil, nutrients, minerals and energy from which you rose, pushing daisies in the process.

For more information:
Natural Burial Association
Natural Burial Co-operative
Pagan Pastoral Outreach