If you care about the health of the planet, what happens to your body once you are dead matters. It’s called disposition. Our disposition options in British Columbia are limited. We currently have only two choices. Flame cremation or burial. Conventional burial is what most municipal cemeteries offer.
Your city or town's website will have a cemetery section that lists the bylaws and current pricing for burial plots, along with fees for opening and closing the plot, optional headstone placement fees, a fee for the grave liner or vault (required by bylaw in municipal cemeteries), and, in at least seven BC communities—Penticton, Prince George, Parksville, South Surrey, Cache Creek, Powell River, and Chilliwack— hybrid green burial plots are an option. When a green burial option is available within a municipal or conventional cemetery, plots are generally the same price as conventional burial plots; however, there is no requirement for grave liners or vaults, and individual headstones are not used in hybrid green burial sections.
We are fortunate in BC to have several beautiful green burial cemeteries. Royal Oak Burial Park on Vancouver Island offers Woodlands for Green Burial; there’s Denman Island Natural Burial Cemetery, Canada’s first contemporary green burial cemetery (available only to current or past residents of Denman Island); and now, Salt Spring Island Natural Cemetery, the first stand alone natural burial cemetery open to the public in Canada. Most First Nations communities in BC can accomplish what we call a green burial because their cemeteries are self-governed, without the requirement for vaults or grave liners.
Currently, the most popular disposition choice in British Columbia is flame cremation. We have the highest cremation rate in North America at about 87 percent. There are as many reasons for choosing cremation as there are people making those decisions. Each family will decide what is best for them. There is, however, a popular misconception that flame cremation is ‘greener’ than conventional burial. In reality, the cremation process releases significant levels of carbon dioxide into the air. Vaporized mercury is also released from fillings in teeth. Carbon emissions released during a single cremation are equal to about two full tanks of gas for a standard vehicle.
Flame cremation is problematic, and in BC we do not have enough crematoriums to meet the demand that is upon us as our aging Baby Boomer population dies. Nor should we build more crematoriums when we have greener, gentler alternatives readily available, tried and tested, but not yet legal in BC.
Aquamation is legal in four Canadian provinces and one territory. Alkaline hydrolysis, aka aquamation, is a water-based, sustainable method of disposition that combines a gentle water flow, even temperature, and alkalinity to accelerate the breakdown of organic material. It uses 90 percent less energy than flame cremation. There are no harmful greenhouse gases, no burning of fossil fuels, and no mercury by-product.
BC needs to offer this alternative to provide more end-of-life choices and to help lessen climate change effects, and to prepare for the demographics of Baby Boomers’ deaths over the next 20 years. For more information and to sign a petition to legalize aquamation in BC, please visit the Aquamation BC Coalition at aquamationbc.ca.
Another option that is not yet being offered in Canada but is legal in three US States at the time of this writing is natural organic reduction. Natural organic reduction or NOR—naturally and gently transforming human remains into soil in an environmentally-controlled facility—was pioneered in the United States by Katrina Spade and is now being offered in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. Organically composting life is something humans have always done. NOR can be done very simply and accomplished with minimal harm to the environment. Herland Forest (herlandforest.org) in Washington is a wonderful, off-grid example of human composting. Return Home (returnhome.com), also in Washington, offers an indoor facility for what they are calling terramation (gently transforming human remains into life giving soil). Katrina Spade’s Recompose (recompose.life) is up and running in Washington, as well.
Providing greener, gentler disposition options is essential to the health of our planet. Take time to consider your options and raise your voice for greener end-of-life options in BC.
Nicola Finch lives off-grid in a remote area west of Williams Lake. She and her husband are co-owners of Touch Wood Rings. They offer custom handcrafted wooden rings, including wooden memorial rings inlaid with the ashes of a loved one. Nicola’s passion is holistic end-of-life care. She is a Death Doula and an advocate for greener, gentler end-of-life options. She also sits on the Advisory Board of the Aquamation BC Coalition..