Green Burial

By Pamela Walker

Published in Take 5 Magazine, February 2022

The world wept when Archbishop Desmond Tutu died in December. And even in death he demonstrated his compassion for our world.

Desmond Tutu chose a pine box for his funeral, not one made from endangered wood. And instead of cremation, he chose aquamation, a process that decomposes the body using a mixture of lye and warm water, The air pollution and carbon emissions from this process are very low.

The man who helped rid the world of the brutal caste system known as apartheid was also a staunch environmentalist. In both his life and his death, he reflected his values. He knew that an average cremation generates 500 grams of toxic air pollution and 250 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the gas used in the cremation.

Since his funeral, many people have been chatting about what they want done with their body after they have fallen off their perch. We, in the Yellow Point Ecological Society, have been talking about this for a while as well. What we’ve found is there are many interesting environmentally friendly ideas, but not many choice—yet.

First, Desmond Tutu’s aquamation has been used to dispose of farm animals for years but has not been okayed for human use in BC. The health authorities want to know whether the water used can be filtered properly. Aquamation, however has been approved in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, so it may be available in BC soon.

Another possible process places the body in a tube filled with fungi, and there’s an idea called recomposing, where the body is put in a vessel filled with alfalfa, wood chips and straw. With these methods, you don’t just get an urn back, but a truck-load of garden soil in as little as four weeks. Finally, one could have a green burial: no embalming solution, no coffin—just a shroud, a hole and a temporary marker. They offer this service at the Royal Oak Cemetery in Victoria, and on Denman Island.

But we wondered, what if we went one step further? What if we were able to save a piece of land slated for development and pay for it with proceeds from a green burial site?

To test this as a sound business proposition, we called the School of Business at VIU. Could an MBA student study its feasibility? MBA students get paid, so we may have to do some fundraising and maybe we apply for a grant to help defer some of the cost. If the project proves sound, we will look for an appropriate local forest. Then who knows what will happen? We may soon be able to stay here permanently—albeit transformed—under a canopy of endangered Coastal Douglas firs. And that is music to Mother Nature’s ears.

For more information, call Pamela at 250-245-9155.

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