Have you every thought that, rather than being buried in a fancy lacquered coffin, or contributing to carbon emissions through cremation, you’d prefer to be buried naturally and help to nourish the bushes and trees?
Well this may become a realistic option in the Byron Shire in the next few years.
The council will discuss setting the wheels in motion to establish the Shire’s first Natural Burial Ground at tomorrow’s full council meeting (November 28).
A motion put forward by Greens Councillors Michael Lyon and Jeanette Martin, proposes looking for a suitable parcel of council or privately owned land to create a natural burial ground.
‘We are all just the stuff of stars…it’s a shame to waste it by sending it up a chimney or burying it deep in the ground,’ says Diane Hart, a member of the Natural Burial Ground for Byron Shire Community Group.
‘Our bodies are a valuable resource should be returned to the earth to continue the cycle of life.’
Long-term locals may remember that this concept has been discussed within the community for at least two decades.
During this time, natural burial grounds have been established in Lismore and the Gold Coast.
Ms Hart said the latest push for a similar area in the Byron Shire began in 2016 when former Greens councillor Duncan Dey put expressions of interest out to private land owners on behalf of the community.
In 2017 fellow Green and current Mayor Simon Richardson reportedly indicated his support for the idea.
The urgency presented by the challenge of climate change has now brought renewed energy to the project.
‘It has now become apparent that the way our bodies are disposed of has also become a critical point of discussion,’ Ms Hart said.
‘Current cremation and traditional burial practices are unsustainable. This is coupled with the fact that we are running out of space in our cemeteries for traditional burials. Now is not too soon for Council to be seeking better options.’
Currently, about 80 per cent of people in Australia are cremated. Often this is the preferred option because of cost and lack of choice.
However, a normal cremation will produce about 160kg of carbon into the atmosphere according to a report from the South Australian Centennial Park Authority – the majority from burning the coffin, but also other toxic substances such as dioxins and heavy metals like mercury.
Cemetery burials potentially have an even greater impact on the environment than cremations.
The process of embalming the body involve the use of formaldehyde – a known carcinogen that seeps into groundwater and the atmosphere.
The wooden coffin is usually lacquered, plastic lined and held together with toxic glues.
Furthermore, most modern headstones are made from granite shipped from China. In addition is the added environmental impact of the construction of roads and infrastructure in cemeteries and the ongoing maintenance of the site. (UN study 2007).
But setting up a natural burial ground is not without its challenges.
As the council staff report accompanying the motion notes, the process of being buried in this way currently requires permission from multiple authorities.
‘A person who wishes to bury the body of a deceased person without a coffin or casket in a general case or in a particular case must seek the approval of the Chief Health Officer or delegates including the Director Health Protection or the Public Health Unit Director or Public Health Officer of the Public Health Unit of the Local Health District,’ the report notes.
‘Wrapping of the body must be in at least four layers of cotton/linen sheeting which is able to prevent the leakage of any body exudates or substances.
‘The body must be contained in a coffin until the body is placed into a grave.’
‘The body of a deceased person who is known or is reasonably believed to be infected with a prescribed infectious disease must be buried in a coffin for public health reasons.’
‘The body must be prepared in a mortuary registered with the NSW Ministry of Health.’