Buried in the serenity of the bush: An interview with Mark Blackham

My daughter proudly handed me a newspaper article. The heading was something like NZ’s first natural burial ground opens. I stood there, perplexed. I was briefly back in Aotearoa New Zealand from the UK where I had begun to work as a funeral celebrant. At the time, about 2007, there were well over a hundred natural burial grounds in the UK, and I had simply assumed that good old green NZ would have plenty, too. But no, it had taken the death of a baby at birth, and fifteen years of dedicated hard work to bring one natural burial ground into being here.

 

Years later, in 2015, I would of course want to speak with Mark Blackham as part of my research for the book I hoped to write – Re-Imagining Death.

 

 

Thank you so much for being prepared to do this interview, Mark.

 

 

Okay. What do you need to know, then?

 

 

You started this organisation, Natural Burials, and you’re its Director. Can you tell us about its vision?

 

 

Well, in 1999, the starting vision, if this can be a vision, was choice. My wife and I lost our first child at birth, and faced that question about ‘What do you do?’ and that’s when it all came back to me, this idea I’d had when I was about 15 years old. You can get a bit dark when you’re in your teenage years, and you think about those sorts of things, and then you don’t think about it again until you’re much older. So this idea came back you me, and my wife liked it too, and so we asked around. Everybody said, ’You can’t do that.’ The idea was to be buried in the bush. I just thought that would be very cool, and I couldn’t see a good reason why not. (For non-Kiwis – “the bush” is what we call out native forests as they’re mostly quite dense.)

 

Then a while later, when I began exploring a little bit, the common theme with all of the burial grounds (and when I looked at the law as well) was a set menu of things, a very narrow set menu of things. In fact, that also applies to funeral directors. All the experiences people told me about were of funeral directors not doing things people wanted to do, so people felt very left out. So, for me, choice was absent, and if there’s anything about the modern consumer, the modern individual, it’s an expectation of choice.

 

So that was the starting vision. The vision itself, the choice that we wanted, was to be buried naturally, either in bush, or in an area that would return to bush. It was as simple as that. And that we would have these places everywhere.

 

 

And it’s been a long journey. I’m surprised how long it’s taken.

 

 

Oh, goodness. Yeah, well … funnily enough, I think we followed the pattern that might be familiar to others who come up with a new idea, and that’s that in some ways they overdo the newness of it. And newness frightens people – they get nervous about it. It sounds like you’re trying to change everything. And after a while I realised I was not talking about anything new, just some modification on what was available: you don’t go quite as deep; you just use a casket that’s made of slightly different material to what people have been using; the family get to do a few more things that they want to do, like digging the grave themselves, or filling it in; and that there’s a tree rather than a concrete or stone memorial.

 

So then we turned it around a bit like that and began doing less of the, ‘Hey it’s a great new environmental thing’, and more ‘It’s just a little bit of a change on what we’ve been doing’, we began to make a bit more headway.

 

Also, councils … I hope you don’t mind if I talk quite a bit …

 

 

No, you go for it.

 

 

Councils were very reluctant, kind of still are, but less so now. Cemeteries are just holes for money, for them. They cost a lot in terms of maintenance, and they’re nothing but trouble because people always pester them about memorials that have fallen over, or something that hasn’t been mowed often enough. Oh, it’s just endless; people want to pull people out of the ground … Cemeteries just lose councils money, hand over fist. So here we were coming along to them saying, ‘Tell you what; can you open up a new section for us?’ I mean with this thing they just said, ‘Oh go away; we don’t want any more trouble; you’re just trouble’.

 

The Wellington [City] Council were less like that. They were still circumspect, and still focused on practical things, which is right, but were open to the idea. First off, though, they were mainly open to the idea of assisting us doing it ourselves, but we figured that, because of our initial rounds of approaching councils and them saying no, probably what we’d be best to do was to get the council to certify us setting up our own one. This is because under the law, only a council can designate an area as a cemetery, so we would have needed them to certify an area that we had chosen, that we had bought ourselves, as a cemetery. And the Wellington Council was willing to do that.

 

But then (this is about 2006) somewhere along the line … the main problem was that they didn’t want to be lumbered with a piece of land with about five people in it and the trust we had formed going bust. I could see that, because under the law they would have been lumbered with the responsibility of managing it. So they said, ‘Could you give us your business plan?’ (and when I say business plan, this was never an idea for a profit, it was just something we wanted done). In the end we had to spend a lot of our own money, and we were prepared to sink our own money into it to make it happen.

 

So we gave them our business plan and they went, ‘Oh, it really does work, doesn’t it?’ So they said, ‘I’ll tell you what, we’ll do it ourselves then’. Well we were both cross and … well we were cross, actually. We’d spent a lot of time and money taking this other route. We were about to buy a bit of land, and had done planning consent requests, traffic analysis and all the rest of it, but we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it together’. They had a piece of land already, which was adjacent to the current cemetery.

 

 

Yes, to the Makara one.

 

 

Yes. It wasn’t designated to be used … well, it would have been eventually, but it could have been 100, 200 years, who knows. So they said, ‘Let’s set it up there’, and the rest is history really. It opened in 2007. We had twelve people in the first year, and then it’s probably increased by 20 to 25 percent in numbers every year after that. There are 150 people there.

 

 

Great.

 

 

I think key in that have been funeral directors, by the way. We did a lot of massaging of funeral directors. The years from 2000 to 2006, they were nasty towards our organisation and our ideas. Every council we talked to, the funeral directors association went and talked to afterwards. Early in the piece, when we presented to Wellington Council, one of their funeral directors went along to a council meeting and told them a whole lot of stuff about how dead people need to be embalmed because of the danger of infection and all the rest of it, all of it completely untrue. We even had the monumental masons, probably not surprisingly, complain about us.

 

 

All afraid of their bottom line, I guess.

 

 

Yes, all of them were worried about that. The monumental masons probably justifiably so, but really … someone says they don’t want a headstone and so you attack them and criticise them for it? It’s personal choice.

 

Funeral directors I think were worried that we were trying to take business away from them. So we took that one on directly, here in Wellington, anyway, with the prospect of the Wellington [Natural Burial] Cemetery starting up, and me and another person went round visiting all the funeral directors, and made it clear that we weren’t interested in taking business off them. We weren’t interested in business, full stop. We were just interested in having a natural cemetery. We’d done proper opinion surveys. We showed them the numbers, the number of people who were interested in this and the sorts of things they were interested in, and said, ‘You guys can provide the service; we want you to provide the service, to get these people into the cemetery’. So one or two of them picked it up, including and primarily, Simon Manning.

 

The guy is … we just can’t say enough good stuff about him. He’s a businessman, and he’s shrewd, but that just goes hand in glove with an awareness of meeting people’s expectations and needs. You know, he saw where the market was going, but he’s generous as well, generous with his time. He got right in behind us; helped us with the council. He adjusted his presentation to clients, distributed the material to them, and embraced it fully. That made one heck of a difference. So, not all funeral directors are tarred with the same brush, and gradually over time they have all, well I’d say two-thirds of them, have adjusted.

 

 

Good. Well, what a long journey, and quite a tumultuous one really.

 

 

Yes, it’s had its moments, that’s for sure.

 

You’re probably aware of the Law Commission Review recently. One of their recommendations involves allowing private cemeteries to be set up, but in the end, all these private cemeteries still need to go through the local authority to be signed off.

 

We’ve just been working with the Palmerston North City Council on setting up a cemetery there, and they’ve gone for a tiny little swampy piece of land. Oh, and the other part of that Law Commission Review says that if a group of locals demand a natural burial ground, or sort of cemetery, or component of a cemetery, councils have to provide it. What I’m trying to say here is that the Palmerston North example shows that you’re still … You know councils are not always the best way of doing these things. They’re bureaucratic, they’re risk averse, so it’s not necessarily going to be an answer. There’s always going to be barriers to this.

 

 

Well, until we wake up to how we can’t sustain life on the planet the way we’re living now.

 

 

No, that’s right. Actually, it’s funny you should say that, because one of the things that often gets said is, ‘But cemeteries take up land’. And we say, ‘Yes, isn’t that fantastic! Let’s take up more, and put bush on it!’

 

 

Yes, very good.

 

 

Yes, you’re right, it’s been difficult, but that’s what happens. I think we’re over the hump, though. We now have council people coming to us and saying, ‘Can you help us set one up’, rather than us going to them and saying, ‘Will you set one up’ and they say ‘No’. So the difficulties are in the practical application now. There’s been a great transformation of attitudes to death over the past ten years that we’ve been pushing this. We like to think we’ve had some part in that change.

 

 

I’m sure you have

Now, I don’t know if you want to go into this sort of detail, or if we just refer people to your article, Going up in Smoke, for instance, (I did like that) but I wanted to ask why is natural burial a valuable and necessary alternative? There are two factors there: an alternative to traditional burials, and an alternative to cremation.

 

 

Well, I’ll start with something slightly different if that’s all right. I think the primary reason that people choose a natural burial has to do with their concept of natural, in a really general, holistic sense, not a specific sense. It’s about simplicity, and a return to nature, a sort of completing the cycle. Also the idea of being buried in an area of bush … there’s a tranquility and a peacefulness, which I think attracts. So there’s some psychology involved. That’s one of the reasons, if not the main starting reason.

 

That’s been a learning thing for us because we started off reasonably environmental about the thing, and probably over time that’s adjusted with the reality of the sort of people who are picking it up, which is exactly the people we hoped for, mainstream New Zealanders, not greeny alternatives … just everybody. And the reasons people pick it up are all those things I’ve just said. And that’s why it’s an alternative; it’s an alternative because it seems to just synchronise better with people’s ideas of the peace and tranquility of death, and the completion of the cycle.

 

And to your specific point. Well, it’s better than a traditional burial because the traditional burial locks you away in a casket that is not necessarily going to break down as quickly. (I mean it does break down if you’re looking at hardwood, or if you’re looking at chipboard, and most of them are chipboard with veneers, those have got lots of glues, formaldehyde, a lot of synthetic stuff, plastics … a whole heap of chemicals. And of course, heavy in the processing: veneer, plastic, that’s all had to be manufactured using raw resources, and electricity – the whole thing.)

 

So the caskets themselves are both a dead weight … sorry, I haven’t used that one before; it’s quite good … and an environmental cost, plus they have a tendency to lock away all your body goodies from the soil.

 

But what’s worse, in terms of that locking you away from the soil, is the depth at which people are buried, because not only do you decompose without oxygen (because there’s almost no oxygen at six feet under, or at one and a half meters that people go) you kind of liquefy rather than decompose. And what happens to that liquid and what’s in your body is that it gets washed down, straight into the water table, rather than being absorbed by bacteria, macro- and micro-organisms and plant roots.

 

 

And therefore turned into harmless matter – well, not just harmless, but helpful matter.

 

 

Yes, make sure I come back to that in a moment. So it washes down into the water table and that’s where you get toxification of streams. Plus, all that stuff from the casket goes out with it. It does break down eventually, but all those plastics, chemicals and what-not are going to wash out as well.

 

So, the cool chemical thing that happens with a natural burial is about the twelve basic elements in your body, and how they get taken up by other life, by bacteria and worms and other stuff in the soil, plus by plants. So nitrogen in your body gets fixed and becomes nitrate, carbon becomes carbonate, sulphur becomes sulphate and so on. There are twelve of them. So that gets used by those animals and turned into more life.

 

And also, in terms of traditional burial, you have your headstone, and the area is mowed and looked after. So we like the idea of the bush overhead providing both tree-life and oxygen, and also habitat for other organisms. Goodness, I heard yet again today, another quote about biomass and how important it is, even just a square meter of grass and a couple of weeds, how much life is in there.

 

So that’s the direct contrast with the traditional burial: depth, decomposition format – providing no nutrients to the soil – and let’s call it a sterile environment above.

 

 

And embalming?

 

 

Well, the biggest problem with embalming is the denial of the body to the soil, and its contribution to that liquefying format. We have to be fair; the research seems to say that if you test the soil around a body after ten years or so, the formaldehyde from the embalming is hard to detect. It’s probably been there for the ten years beforehand, but the levels of toxicity are low. It’s not a biggie; I don’t want to overdo that. So it’s more that you’re denying your body unnecessarily.

 

But you’ve also got the problem of thermaldahyde as a cancer-causing danger to the people who are carrying out the embalming. Actually there is quite a high incidence of needle pricks and things like that with embalmers, and they’re affected by the stuff that’s in the embalming fluids. The other thing to say is that we’ve got two or three embalming fluids now that are green, environmentally good. We still discourage their use because they slow down decomposition, but they’re actually okay. One’s called Mortech 2-in-1. I don’t think it’s a New Zealand product. It’s a salt-based cleanser of your internal system. It washes a saline solution through the body. It’s all unnecessary, but, if you insist on it … if you really think you need it for an extra day or two for the body, then it’s okay, but it doesn’t really do any better than putting a body in the chiller. You know, you just don’t need it. Most burials are on that third or fourth day and that’s still fine for an unembalmed body. It’s adding something artificial, and our general principle is ‘Don’t add anything synthetic to the earth’.

 

 

That’s a good principle.

 

 

And in terms of the comparison with cremation, well in that chemical thing I told you about, when you force an extra element of oxygen, in fusion, in fire, into those elements I told you that the body is made up of, you turn a bunch of them toxic. So sulphur becomes sulphur dioxide; nitrogen becomes nitrous dioxide I think it is, and those are pollutants. And at a crematorium they’re thrown up into the air, giving us air pollution. Yet they could go into the ground and become food. It’s madness. It’s kind of crazy.

 

In Europe they actually have crematoriums classified in their industrial-use surveys for polluters. Now compared to a factory or something like that, crematoriums are nothing, but they’re significant enough to feature on the monitoring of levels of pollutants emitted into the air. So, they don’t need to be there.

 

Of course you’ve got the casket thing – all that resource put into the casket, which then gets burned. At the very least, the ranges of caskets that we triggered, which include untreated pine, are much quicker-burning. This new generation of caskets is at least better for people still insisting on cremating.

 

 

Well, that’s a good sort of offshoot, if you like.

I have a question about the quantity of gas it apparently takes to cremate a body. I was at a friend’s home when a man came to swap their gas bottles.  He and I got talking and he said that when he started delivering gas the amount of gas it took to cremate a body was something like one fifteenth or one tenth of what it is now, because our bodies have so many more heavy metals. That was mind-blowing to me.

 

 

I’m not sure I’d believe that. I think the crematoriums have become far more efficient. The quantity of heavy metals in our body is still a tiny proportion of the total weight of the body. And if you watch a cremation it is fairly fast, but that’s because they heat them so high, but you’ve got to keep them vented as well, but they do use a lot of gas, and unnecessarily so. In the end it’s all wasted resource.

 

 

So, in terms of the availability of natural cemeteries, I guess for on-going access to information it’s best to refer people to the Natural Burials website, as the availability is going to keep shifting, or growing. Is that the best way to be up-to-date?

 

 

Well, we’re just a voluntary organisation, so the website is never as up-to-date as it might be, but we do keep a list of all the natural cemeteries that exist, plus the ones coming on-steam.

 

 

So I guess it’s good to ask your funeral director, too, because that helps sow the seed as well.

 

 

Absolutely. It is bizarre. It was only a couple of weeks ago; we were doing a little bit of work with some people in a town, in Northland somewhere, who were interested in getting a natural cemetery set up. They got a little bit of media coverage and made a proposal to the Council. And a funeral director said to the Council, and in the media, ‘I’ve had no requests for natural burials’. 

 

No, of course he hasn’t. There aren’t any available. We got a bit of that. I remember one of the councilors in Wellington saying to us, ‘If this was such a great idea it would have been done already’. Yeah, that’s what they said about the wheel! Such lunacy, but there you go. You might not want a natural burial for yourself, that’s perfectly fine, but why you would attempt to deny it for everybody else, I don’t know.

 

So, my point being, responding to yours, yes, people should ask their funeral directors about it. Ring up and say, ‘Do you offer natural burial? How would you go about it?’ And if they say they don’t have one locally you could ask, ‘How would you go about making sure my funeral is as natural as possible? Do you have the untreated soft pine caskets available? Would you bury me in a shroud?’ (Which of course you can. There’s nothing illegal about that). ‘Can you make sure that I’m buried only half a metre down?’

 

Now technically there is nothing stopping any cemetery in New Zealand doing that. I think there were only a handful of councils, when we did our research, which had a by-law that said it needed to be six feet, or whatever it was. Most of them don’t specify.

 

So if you just ask a couple of questions like that, those sorts of things get a funeral director on notice that there is indeed interest out there and they’d better start thinking about it.

 

 

And apart from the website, what resources would you like me to list? Id’ love to share your article, ‘Going Up in Smoke’. Can you think of any other good resources?

 

 

The other one is the Natural Death Centre in the UK.

 

 

Yes, I had ten years in the UK as I think I indicated. The Natural Death Handbook and the movement – they’re very actively supportive, aren’t they, of people creating natural burial grounds.

 

 

It’s funny though, over the fifteen years that we’ve been doing our thing, we’ve been asked questions in New Zealand that they never got asked. We’d get in touch with them and ask questions like, ‘How long does it take a body to decompose?’ They had no idea, because no-one ever asked those things over there. They just thought it was a great idea and went from there. Over here we kind of wanted to know the nth degree about stuff, which is a great thing about New Zealand, but also a curse.

 

So our website has got probably more than you’d get anywhere else in terms of some of those hard facts, like the chemical composition of the body I was telling you about. Those things are all on the website, and you won’t find them easily anywhere else. We’re the ones who had to do all the work.

 

More specifically, we got some of our information out of the guys in America [USA]: the FBI Body Farm. Yes, they’ve got a hundred acres or so and they bury all these John Does or whatever they call them, in various states of decomposition, and see what happens, and they learn from that so that they can help in police investigations. So we asked them a few questions. They were really, really helpful; they’re the only people in the world who’ve done it.

 

 

That’s brilliant! This journey has led you all over the place, hasn’t it Mark?

 

 

It certainly has. I’m just taking a look at my books. I’ve got a bunch of books here, but these days everything’s on line. The Natural Death Handbook from the UK is great.

 

 

And this new one? ‘A Better Send-Off’, is it?

 

 

Yes, by Gail McJorrow. It’s good. Her book’s more inspirational. She’s asking the ‘Why Not?’ question. If you were looking for the hard facts, that’s probably not the one you’d go to.

 

The other website would be Simon Manning’s Eco Funerals. He’s set up an eco-funerals network. There is an international network owned by an American funeral directing company, but Simon has tried to set a New Zealand-based one, and one of the formats he’s done it under is the Eco Funerals website.

 

The other people I’d always recommend are the Return to Sender caskets in Auckland. The reason I mention them is because it’s not just about caskets; they sell them (they’re not for everybody because they’re very designed, though they’ve got some simple ones now as well) but they are totally into the concept of natural burials, personalised funerals, the whole of thing. Their motivations are pure.

 

We’ve updated our fact sheet, but I’m not sure if it’s on the website. It’s a four-pager with a lot of that chemical stuff that you might want to have as a resource. I’ll email it to you.

 

There’s probably stuff to be talked about in terms of people’s engagement with funeral directors, or how much of the work of a funeral you take on yourself …

 

We’ve stayed away from any critique, or any involvement with funeral directors the past few years because they were so critical of us, but through that period we’ve learnt a few things about how to find out who’s good and who’s not.

 

 

I’m going to speak with Phillip Tomlinson, shortly. Do you know of him?

 

 

Yes, he’s the do-it-yourself, do-it-on-the-cheap man, but good on him.

 

 

And I think he’s also coming very much from a point of view that it’s so much better for the grieving process to have a lot of participation and involvement in a funeral.

 

 

I’ve actually looked up his book a lot because I’m convinced that the pre-planning, personalising stuff, where a person gets to plan and do their own funeral, is such a good preparation for death, and I’ve witnessed it. It seems to have people feel more content about their approaching death. We’ve got personal testimony from dozens of people who’ve used the natural cemetery about how important it was to them: dressing their parent, keeping the body at home, filling in the grave – that stuff where they participate. And referring back to what you were saying, how much better grieving is. Even seeing the person dead, rather than ‘sleeping’ in the sense of being all ‘lovelied up’.

 

So I’m convinced about that, but so far all we’ve got is effectively anecdotal; it’s just personal testimony. I’ve found no research that’s been done that you could say proves it. Personal testimony is no proof about better grieving, but I could put you in touch with a couple of families about how much better it made them feel. It gets you close to the real thing, but hard proof there isn’t any.

 

I think one of the great things about natural burial is that the experience has been so good that people want to share it. Obviously it’s to our advantage to have them talking about it, but for you it’s that personal involvement. It was part and parcel of what we started to do early on, was this idea of family involvement. We’ve all got too far away from death – it’s foreign, and scary, and we keep it at arm’s length, and we don’t need to. So these people will be able to speak to you about that.

 

 

That’s wonderful. Thank you, Mark, and for your time this evening.

 

 

Mark Blackham

 

www.naturalburials.co.nz

 

http://www.naturalburials.co.nz/natural-burial-facts/summary-of-research/

 

 

Article referred to above:

 

Going up in smoke

Despite the recent efforts of some local authorities to encourage it, cremation is not a fitting way to dispose of your body after you die, according to the founder of Natural Burials, Mark Blackham.

Cremation turns your body into air pollution and barren ash. In our era of personal choice and environmental consciousness, it is odd that some City councils have recently decided to increase burial prices to encourage people to use cremation.

Studies of emissions reveal that cremation turns people into at least 46 different pollutants. Some of these, like nitrous oxides and heavy metals, remain in the atmosphere for up to 100 years causing ozone depletion and acid rain.

This fact would have horrified my Dad, who was cremated when he died last year in Australia. Being above all frugal, he had selected a no-frills cremation service for himself. They collect the body, burn it, and you pick up the ashes two weeks later.

I like to think that the fact that he had any choice at all is an indicator of the transformation beginning to work its way through the death industry. 
Society is becoming once again less fearful of death. People are demanding more involvement, more personalisation, and more choice in what happens to their body after they die.

At the vanguard of that change is natural burials – the concept of being buried without embalming, in a bio-degradable casket, at less than half the depth of the traditional burial, so your body is returned to the earth rapidly. A tree is planted over your grave, which becomes part of a new natural forest.

The natural decomposition processes utilised by a natural burial rapidly returns your body to the soil in the shape of around a dozen fundamental life-giving nutrients.

Not only do many people find the acres of bush in a natural cemetery a fitting memorial to their lives, they also regard returning their body to the ecosystem as a far better legacy to leave for future generations.

In the UK, the number of natural burials is growing at a rate three times faster than that enjoyed by cremation when it was first popularised and commercialised in the late 1800s.

Natural burials are bringing human death practices full circle.

For thousands of years early humans buried their dead in simple shallow fashion. Cremations only emerged relatively late in human history. It first arose in the Western world when Romans sought to mimic the dramatic fiery end of their great mythical heroes. Entombments soon replaced cremations thanks to the smart marketing of elaborately carved sarcophagi. By the fifth century cremation had become almost completely obsolete following the spread of Christianity, with its associated belief in the resurrection of the dead (thought to be a bit difficult if your body had been burned to a cinder).

Cremation was revived in 1869 as an idea at the Medical International Congress of Florence, and a model of a cremating apparatus and ashes was exhibited at the Vienna Exposition in 1873.

The first crematorium was built in the UK in 1885. The first crematorium in New Zealand was opened 24 years later, in Karori, Wellington.

Although New Zealand has one of the highest rates of cremations – around 70% of all deaths – the practice has met with mixed success internationally. In Britain only 56% of people are cremated, and in America only 26% of deaths are cremations (although the Cremation Association claims 39%).

Given the high cremation rate here, it is hard to understand why local councils think they face bigger cemetery issues than other countries.

I cannot leave under-answered recent claims that cremations are environmentally better because they reduce pressure on available land, and are “clean”.

The pressure on land and the environment is living humans, not dead ones.

If there is a ‘problem’ posed by cemeteries, it is traditional burial methods. We are the only species in which the dead do not return naturally to the eco-system. Long-life coffins, deep burial and embalming result in the dead remaining intact for a very long time.

Councils are worried by the realisation that, hundreds of years after you die, they will still need to meet the costs of mowing around your grave and re-erect your crumbling gravestone.

They are also jittery about the cost of buying land for new cemeteries, and the costs of owning intensely valuable cemetery land that can’t be sold or developed.

But if traditional burials seem problematic, let us consider the real effects of cremations.

Bodies take up to three hours to burn in a crematorium, using up large quantities of fuels like electricity or natural gas.

The process emits pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur oxide, mercury, dioxin, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, cadmium and chromium.

Although transport and raw industries are the biggest contributors to air pollution, crematoriums are statistically significant polluters.

The European Environment Agencies Emission Inventory Guidebook says crematoria contribute 0.2 % of the total emissions of dioxins and furans – among the most environmentally destructive and long lasting pollutants.

San Francisco’s Public Works Department found in 1999 that crematoria were the third-highest contributor of mercury (from burning amalgam fillings).

Crematoriums claim to comply with environmental standards, but standards are relatively weak. For example, “clean-burning” crematoriums only reduce visible particle emissions, not the real pollutants.

Sadly, the remaining ashes are of no use to the environment either. Ashes are so inert that the soil in cemetery flower beds needs regular replacement to prevent accumulating dead ash choking the life out of plants.

A natural burial offers a far better alternative to both cremation and traditional burial.

It is better for the environment and a more satisfying choice for many of the dying and their families.

The greatest thing we can do upon our death is to be buried naturally, and lock land up in bush to be enjoyed by future generations of humans and flora and fauna.

I have not raised the biggest single reason against Councils forcing cremations – that it is ultimately a spiritual matter. It is not for Councils or Government to limit people’s choices.

And choice has been limited to date. Natural Burials is about to change that. According to our research, at least a third of all New Zealanders can’t imagine anything less fitting to our time alive than to be cremated after death.

 

Permission is granted to reprint this article, as long as the author and source are attributed prominently; Mark Blackham, www.naturalburials.com

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