Our own funeral marks the end of our call on the earth’s resources and, just as in life, involves some choices which can impact, to a greater or lesser degree, on the environment. These choices include whether to embalm, the type of casket to use, and burial or cremation.
Many people today are becoming aware of how they impact on the environment; this has led to more people wanting to make considered choices when they die. Some may choose to have a ‘Natural Burial’ in the purest sense of the word, others want to personalise their funerals and yet still consider the environment.
This website wishes to explain options available to you, and give you information that will ensure your choices are well informed. We hope that you will then be able to make your decisions while considering the impact on the environment.
The burial process uses a plot of land which may be of varying sizes. To minimize the amount of land used, all cemeteries will allow you to bury 2 people into the same plot, in some cemeteries you will be allowed to bury 3 people in the same plot. This occurs by burying the first person at the deepest depth, the second burial is middle depth, and the third person will be placed on top.
Graves are labelled by temporary grave markers and are prescribed by council bylaws, these will normally be placed on the grave until a more permanent monument is organised. The permanent monument is also prescribed by local authority bylaws which generally state that they are to be made of Granite, Marble or Bronze.
If you wish to be buried you should consider how you can lessen the impact of this piece of land on the environment. This may be to have a double or triple depth plot, or a natural burial plot if it is available in your area.
The cremation process requires combustion provided by an electric arc over natural gas. Fans are used to ensure that oxygen is fed into the unit at the correct rate to ensure efficient burning takes place. The process takes approximately 3 hours and only one person is cremated at a time. As each cremation is completed, heat is retained in the bricks of the cremator. Therefore the more cremations that take place in a day, the more efficient the cremator becomes.
Modern crematoriums and cremators use better technology than their predecessors. The cremator technology of a modern crematorium ensures all exhaust gasses are re-ignited to ensure that the discharges to the atmosphere are kept to a minimum. You may wish to check that the crematorium that you are using is not one which emits smoke on combustion. This is a clear sign that it is using old technology. Crematoriums should operate with no odour, no smoke, and no noise emitted to the environment around it.
All embalming chemicals are completely destroyed by the cremation process. No plastics are cremated so pollutant emissions are kept to a minimum, whether you choose an eco-friendly funeral option or not. The modern cremator is cleaner burning than most wood burners operating in domestic homes.
Cremation does use scarce energy resources (natural gas) and contributes to the production of greenhouse gases. However modern, properly operated crematoria do minimize this impact.
Ashes will be returned to you in an urn; most urns are made of natural pine plywood or plastic. You may however request that the ashes be returned in a Radiata Pine Urn or a cardboard box wrapped in recycled paper.
Other urns are available, these are made of metal, resin products, customwood with vinyl veneer, or solid wood.
Below are the website links to casket manufacturers who make caskets that have been approved for use in the certified natural burial cemeteries in Wellington, Kapiti, New Plymouth, Carterton and Marlborough:
Caskets that can be buried in a certified natural burial cemetery have strict compliance conditions. Your funeral director can advise you which caskets made by the above manufacturers have been approved for use in these special cemeteries.
If you are wanting an eco burial in Dunedin, Nelson, Motueka, Thames, Hamilton, or Auckland your funeral director would need to confirm casket requirements by contacting the local councils in those areas.
In general, caskets will be made from sustainably grown and harvested woods, with no chemicals or artificial compounds used in treatment of the wood or manufacture of the casket or its accessories.
Casket handles will be made of natural materials and casket linings are to be of a bio-degradable material such as cotton.
The following materials would not be used in caskets: lead, plastics, vinyl, metal fittings (except the use of minimal metal screws and nails), toxic glues, varnish, oil-based paints or artificial stains.
The decision on whether to request embalming is a personal choice; some people hold strong beliefs about embalming and whether this is necessary. As professional funeral directors it is important that we ensure you are aware of possible consequences of any choice you make.
The options we provide are listed here, but should you have further questions do not hesitate to discuss with your funeral director.
If the person who has died will not be viewed then embalming is not necessary. The body will be bathed and the hair washed in an eco-friendly solution. The mouth and eyes will be cleaned and closed, and the hair is dried. The person is then dressed in clothes supplied by the family.
When no embalming is carried out, you need to consider that the body will naturally decompose. This process can only be slowed down by refrigeration, and this needs to occur as soon as possible after death. Refrigeration requires the use of electricity, and the fridge will be on from the time someone is put into to it, until the day of the funeral.
Some people are of the opinion that embalming is unnecessary but still want to take the body home. Although this is possible you need to be aware of the risk of odour, discolouration and fluids discharging. Closing the casket will not stop this process and some eco caskets will not offer complete water-proofing.
There will be no arterial embalming, but a low index solution will be placed in the abdominal cavity region to slow down bacterial growth. The body will be bathed and the hair washed in an eco-friendly solution. The mouth and eyes will be cleaned and closed, and the hair is dried. The person is then dressed in clothes supplied by the family.
The light embalming option may allow a deceased to be at home for a limited amount of time. However, each body is different and therefore no guarantees may be made as to how long the body will remain in a satisfactory condition.
With this level of embalming there is the possibility of odour, discolouration and bodily fluid discharge occurring, although this is partially minimised by treating the abdomen.
The low index option will mean that the body is arterially embalmed with a formaldehyde free fluid. The abdominal region will also be treated with a formaldehyde free chemical. The body will be bathed and the hair washed in an eco-friendly solution. The mouth and eyes will be cleaned and closed, and the hair is dried. The person is then dressed in clothes supplied by the family.
The body will be in a suitable condition for it to be returned home without fear of unacceptable odour, or body fluid discharges. While each body is different, the low index embalming option will generally allow approximately three days of viewing before the casket should be closed.
The funeral homes listed on this website recognise their responsibility to actively participate in contributing to the protection of the environment and offer low index embalming to support environmental protection.
The full index option will mean that the body is arterially embalmed with an embalming solution that is chosen considering the medical conditions the person had prior to their death, how they died, environmental factors, and with knowledge that the deceased will need to be able to be viewed by family and friends for some time prior to the funeral service.
The body will be bathed and the hair washed in an eco-friendly solution. The mouth and eyes will be cleaned and closed, and the hair is dried. The person is then dressed in clothes supplied by the family.
The body will be in a suitable condition for it to be returned home without fear of unacceptable odour, discolouration or body fluid discharges.
A full index embalming is likely to include formaldehyde in the chemicals used, but bear in mind that modern embalming substances are much kinder to the environment than those used in previous years.
Formaldehyde is currently widely used in many products such as antiseptics and disinfectants. It is also used as a topical treatment in medicine, as a component of drug testing and in the process for developing colour negative films. Formaldehyde builds up in the environment, but breaks down due to natural processes in the soil and water or when exposed to sunlight.
There are 5 certified Natural Burial sites in New Zealand. These sites are certified by ‘Natural Burials’, a not for profit organisation who introduced certification of natural burial sites in New Zealand. ‘Natural Burials’ also provide information to local councils on establishing such sites. Visit their website www.naturalburials.co.nz
Wellington - Makara Cemetery wellington.govt.nz
Carterton - Clareville Natural Cemetery cdc.govt.nz
Kapiti – Otaki Cemetery kapiticoast.govt.nz
New Plymouth - Awanui Cemetery newplymouthnz.com
Marlborough - Fairhall Natural Cemetery. Contact marlborough.govt.nz
Dunedin – Green Park Cemetery dunedin.govt.nz
Nelson - Marsden Valley Cemetery nelson.govt.nz
Motueka – Motueka Cemetery. Contact tasman.govt.nz
Thames – Omahu in Hikutaia. Contact tcdc.govt.nz
Auckland – Waikumete Cemetery. Contact aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
Hamilton – Forest Grove Hamilton Park Cemetery hamilton.govt.nz
The unique sense of place has been achieved through a clear guiding concept: the central idea is that everything about the cemetery is as ‘natural’ as possible. In essence, we will not introduce anything to the cemetery which would interfere with, or pollute, environmental processes. For example, to help natural processes, plots are dug only into the active soil layer, the deceased are not embalmed and are buried in coffins of untreated sustainable wood. Plots are filled with aerobic, organically active soil, overplanted with a tree native to the area, and the whole cemetery is gradually restored to native bush. All of the body nutrients and matter will be gradually absorbed by the surrounding soil and plants. It is intended that the cemetery will become a permanent bush park – a living memorial to those buried there, a home for native flora and fauna, and a beautiful place for family and friends to visit.
No embalming: Bodies buried must not be embalmed. This is to speed up the natural processes of returning the body and its nutrients to the soil, and to reduce the amount of artificial and toxic chemicals and materials we introduce to the soil.
Burial in the upper soil layers: Bodies will be buried as close to or within the active soil layer as possible. Depth will vary according to the soil conditions. Plots will be part refilled with compost to help enrich the soil.
Caskets: You must use a casket approved by Natural Burials and are available from the funeral directors linked to this website. These caskets will be made from sustainably grown and harvested woods, with no chemicals or artificial compounds used in treatment of the wood or manufacture of the casket or its accessories.
Artificial memorials: The central concept is to create an environment which is as natural as possible. Those buried here wanted a natural memorial. It follows that we do not condone placing artificial memorials or other material on the site. These may be removed by the sexton.
Artefacts buried with bodies: Please refer to the central concept for a guide on what to include or exclude from caskets. In short, anything artificial would contravene the natural goals of the Cemetery. Only biodegradable items should be placed into the casket. Flowers which are to be buried must not have metal wire, plastic, or floral oasis as part of the arrangement.
Ash burials are not possible in natural burial cemeteries as ashes contain no nutrients.
Members of Funeral-Link and the Funeral Directors Association of NZ who are affiliated with Eco Funerals NZ Ltd: