Rory Rickwood of Nanaimo has partnered with John Cossham in the United Kingdom to create a website designed to promote ecologically sound burials. Embalming, traditional cemetery burials, and cremation can have a significant impact on the environment and Rory and John hope the funeral industry will revise their business plans to include green burial practices and reduce the environmental risks associated with disposing of human remains. The new website identifies problems and argues that the funeral and cemetery industry are not working hard enough to find solutions to the relatively taboo subject of an impending ecological disaster involving the practice of cremation and traditional burials.
Novaterium.com includes a worldwide directory of green burial sites and green funeral information. The newly coined word, “Novaterium” comes from the Latin “nova” meaning new and “cometerium” a tract of land for burials. It symbolizes the need to find new methods for disposing of human remains. For example, cemeteries can set aside woodland areas for green burials.
“We are not working hard enough to reduce the risks associated with cremation and traditional burials”, said Rickwood. “We developed the Novaterium website to expose the ecological issue facing us, and to challenge the funeral and cemetery industry to provide environmentally sound services.”
Wikipedia encyclopedia reports that roughly 150,000 people die each day across the globe, 54 million each year. There is evidence that cremation and traditional burial practices can cause ecological damage. In 1988, the New York Times warned that cemeteries were running out of space. In the United Kingdom about 70% of funerals are cremations, partly due to a growing lack of space in church graveyards and urban cemeteries. The cremation process uses between 50 to120 cubic meters of natural gas to incinerate the coffin with the body inside. It has been estimated that each cremation event releases 100 to 230 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Crematoria can release pollutants such as mercury from tooth fillings, formaldehyde and dioxins from plastics, glue and embalming materials, and oxides of nitrogen, which contributes to low-level ozone.
Traditional burials use valuable urban land and have their own air pollution footprint due to the depth of burial creating anaerobic conditions, meaning the corpse decays to methane, another greenhouse gas. Additionally, wooden caskets may be made of imported rainforest timber, or may be reconstituted boards using glues and varnishes, which can pollute groundwater or add to crematoria emissions.
According to John Cossham, the funeral and cemetery industry are in a good position to move to greener methods when providing their services to the public. “New technology could make funerals less polluting, and some greener alternatives are already available, although not yet widely used,” said Cossham. “Our Novaterium website tries to answer the question, what are the alternatives to traditional burial and cremation?”
As yet, no Nanaimo area cemeteries are offering green funeral solutions. The closest option is the Woodlands Natural Burial Section at Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich. Rory is now encouraging Telford’s Burial & Cremation Centre in Nanaimo and Ladysmith to offer more eco-friendly services to the public.