by Sandra Moon. This article was updated 7 November, 2022. It features sustainable burials.
As a child I was intrigued by a Native American tradition of placing their deceased on a platform in a tree. It seemed so natural to me to decompose through exposure to the sun, rain and wind. Back then, for my child’s heart, the Native American death rite symbolised a return to nature along with the visual and physical reminder of the bodily vessel that, till recently, had contained a spirit. To my childhood self it also seemed to be a far better alternative to being buried underground, covered by the clamouring nature of soil and clay. And I also preferred the notion of ants marching on me or birds nesting on me, rather than being eaten by worms.
Today my childlike heart still hopes for a greener and cleaner death rite than the coffin versus cremation duality. So, I decided to find the answer to my question: ‘In Australia can I be buried in a tree?’ Or ‘Can I be buried at sea?’ And if not, what is the closest and greenest alternative available?
As for being buried in a tree and succumbing to the elements, in Australia it is a hard no. You can however grow into a plant or a tree. Companies, such as The Living Urn, sell urns designed to grow plants or trees from ashes. You can tend, care and channel some of your grief into the process as you nurture a living thing and watch it grow. The ashes don’t even need to be fresh.
As for being buried at sea in Australia, it turns out you can be under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 governed by the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Permission is required and, according to the department website, is granted upon having sufficient justification such as a being a fisher or member of the navy.
And other than that, the greenest way to be buried in Australia is to forgo the embalming which is full of formaldehyde, forgo the coffin which can contain non-perishable items such as handles, and even forgo the cremation which emits a lot of carbon and be buried in a certified green burial ground.
There are two green burial grounds in NSW and several more around Australia. One of these natural burial grounds is in Lismore. The Bushland Cemetery is owned by the Lismore Council. You do not need to use a coffin, but to go without one requires permission by the NSW Department of Health. You need to complete an application via their website. There are some conditions involved including that the body needs to be stored in a casket up to the point of burial and that the body must be prepared in a registered mortuary.
So that is the results of my research on tree burials, sea burials and green burials in Australia.
Other countries do things differently of course but the coolest thing I uncovered was if you live in the United States, you can be composted in a mushroom suit that digests your body!
For a full list of green burial grounds in Australia click here.
Read more about options with The Living Urn.
To refer to the Public Health Regulations on burying a body without a coffin see https://www1.health.nsw.gov.au/pds/ActivePDSDocuments/PD2013_048.pdf
To read how creating a bespoke funeral can ease the grieving process check out Sandra’s last post on sharing a final moment with her cousin through coffin art.
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