Meeting your maker with a green conscience

By Olivia Carville, Jocelyn Muir

An eco-friendly casket, reused several times, is one option for reducing the effect of funerals on the environment. Photo / Supplied
An eco-friendly casket, reused several times, is one option for reducing the effect of funerals on the environment. Photo / Supplied

Natural, eco-friendly alternatives to funerals and burials are becoming more popular, and more available, in New Zealand.

The Canterbury Cremation Society has started to recycle artificial hip and knee joints and replacements that are not destroyed by the 1100C cremation process.

Its first batch of metal joints was melted down and recycled by a metal scrap merchant in August this year.

General manager Barbara Terry is very proud of her environmentally friendly recycling system.

"We hope the rest of the crematoriums around the country see the benefits of recycling and have the courage to follow suit," she said.

Artificial implants are left behind in three to four cremations a week at the society's crematoriums.

They used to be buried in pits on its grounds, a common crematorium practice.

Mrs Terry said burying the rare metal was a waste when it could be recycled.

Mangere Lawn Cemetery Trust Board general manager Graeme Cummins agrees.

"Barbara is leading the way in recycling this material in New Zealand and if there's a demand to do it then we will also do it," he said.

Funeral Directors Association president Tony Garing said demand for green funerals was growing. Funeral directors now offered recycled paper for service sheets, eco-friendly embalming chemicals and sustainable material for caskets, such as pressed carbon and cotton fibre, he said.

His organisation, which represents 70 per cent of New Zealand's funeral directors, was looking at setting up training programmes on green funerals.

Ms Foote, director of the Natural Funeral Company, has been working in the industry for nine years and says green funerals are "driven by demand".

"I used to work in a traditional funeral company and people would say, 'just throw me in a cardboard box and please don't embalm me'. Back then, the funeral industry didn't give people the choice," she said.

The company's most popular casket is made of rimu, which is recycled five to six times.

Before cremation, the deceased and the interior liner are removed from the casket, which is then reused.

"People don't like to burn money and caskets that are plastic and shiny are over the top. People are wanting something more simple," she said.

Ms Foote said woven baskets were also a popular, eco-friendly alternative to caskets.

State of Grace, a family-directed funeral home, shares these environmental principles.

Most of its caskets are sustainable, including the handwoven willow casket from a South Island workshop and their environmentally friendly shrouds.

These are made from crushed silk cocoon, with a hidden ply base that has a wool and organic cotton cover and a choice of coconut or shell buttons.

Instead of embalming - using a mixture of chemicals to preserve the body - State of Grace uses a cooling room which can reduce the need for chemicals which end being being put into the ground.

Cofounder Fran Reilly said its numbers were doubling every year and it was doing up to five funerals a week in Auckland.

"People are certainly more interested. We wanted to encourage the industry to clean up, said Ms Reilly.

"We believe that the processes should be as natural as possible." She said she would like to see natural burial options available in Auckland.

Dying to be green?
Two components of a "green" burial are being buried "naturally" with a tree on the plot instead of a grave stone, in a place that is being restored to its natural environment, according to Natural Burials.

An alternative is to be buried naturally in a traditional cemetery in a casket of untreated pine, unembalmed, at a depth of a metre or less.

- NZ Herald

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