Nelson City Council has voted to allow natural burials in the city’s cemetery.
A natural burial means no embalming, with the body placed directly into the earth in a biodegradable container or shroud, with a grave marker. No traditional casket or grave liner is used.
The city did not however give a green light to green burials. A green burial is a larger process that includes a natural burial, plus the planting of a special cemetery area with native trees, shrubs and ground cover, and integrating the area with the local ecosystem.
The city is about to start developing a new master plan for Nelson’s parks, including the cemetery, that could include re-designing part of the cemetery land to include green burials. This planning process would be included in the budget development process for 2024.
But natural burials could be done now, because it would not involve any additional land or landscaping at the cemetery. The bylaw amendment allowing natural burials was approved on its third reading and will be formally adopted at a meeting in the near future.
Members of the Nelson End of Life Society were pleased with this first step, but they want an assurance that green burials will be included in the new cemetery plan next year.
“For us, it is important that people have the option of a green burial,” said Lily Mayall, one of the society’s directors, after the council meeting on Sept. 12. She said the group has a petition with 300 signatures asking for green burials.
“We would like to know how council would like us to respond to those 300 people,” Mayall said. “We want some kind of assurance that this will happen in the future. The cemetery needs to expand and we are all going to die, so let’s make an area that is green so that we can accommodate the wishes of the people.”
Sandy Joyce, also a director of the society, said the cost of maintaining a green burial area is far less than maintaining a regular cemetery because there is no mowing or weeding.
Traditional burial practices involve embalming, non-biodegradable caskets, and concrete vaults, which have significant environmental and financial costs. Green burials and natural burials aim to return a body to the earth in a more natural way with less ecological impact.
The Green Burial Society of Canada lists five principles of green burials: no embalming, direct earth burial in a biodegradable shroud, ecological restoration and conservation of the site, simple memorial grave markers, and optimal land use with minimal infrastructure.
There are 12 cemeteries in B.C. that are designed to allow for green burials including the Dumont Creek Cemetery in the Slocan Valley.