Eco-Friendly Cemeteries: A Sustainable Departure

By Arianna Noera

When you think of the word “cemetery,” it’s easy to imagine a large, sprawling lawn dotted with tombstones. It’s a stereotype that many cemeteries around the world fall into. For a long time in our culture there were only two basic options open to our loved ones after they passed on: burial or cremation. The choice seemed easy. But now there are more and more options every day, like having your ashes scattered someplace, or donating your body to science.

For some time now in Québec it’s been possible to choose an environmentally friendly way of joining the choir invisible: an ecological cemetery. That’s a place where sustainable development is practiced, and your carbon footprint is minimized. The practice is also known as “green burial” in a “green cemetery.”

It’s not just a trend. Québec’s ecological cemeteries are more and more present, in the city as well as in the country. Dozens of natural ecological cemeteries have been created over the last few years.

What, then, is an ecological cemetery? It involves burial, but there are also certain criteria dictated by sustainable development. “The word ‘ecological’ for cemeteries is very strong. It would be better to call these ‘cemeteries with low environmental impact.’ That means we have an approach more sensitive to sustainable development,” says John Tittel, director of the natural cemetery Les Sentiers in Prévost, in the lower Laurentians.  

Sustainability is a key principle of our age. It’s at the root of many changes in our lives; and now, in changes in our afterlives. The spaces in these sorts of cemeteries are left natural, wooded and full of greenery. Say goodbye to wide, sweeping lawns; say hello to wooded glades.

“The carbon footprint of this type of cemetery is very small,” Tittel explains. “But beyond being an ecological revolution, the concept suggests a whole new vision of how cemeteries are designed. The idea is to create a sort of botanical garden, but with indigenous vegetation, in our case, indigenous to the Laurentians. In this way, nature isn’t disturbed by the intrusion of exotic plants, nor by any invasive landscaping.”

The maintenance of a lawn cemetery poses environmental dangers not solely because of the destruction of local plants, but also because of the pesticides necessary for its upkeep.

Toxic Waste

Another aspect of burial is embalming. That means conserving the body by injecting toxic chemicals into it. This practice is widely used by western cultures, even if the additives used are considered dangerous for human health and the environment.

Why are these liquids seen as toxic? Because they are among the principal causes of the contamination of vegetation and water. Chemicals used for embalming end up in the water. That’s one reason why more and more families choose to scatter their loved one’s ashes (post cremation) without an urn, which is more respectful to the natural environment.  

“When the cremation is over, we can dispose of the ashes of the deceased without an urn,” says Tittel. “If the family chooses a ‘without ritual’ cremation, which means burying the ashes immediately without a religious ritual, they can receive the ashes and immediately dispose of them in the roots of a tree, without an urn.”

This wish to respect nature often goes with a wish to renew our bonds with nature. The idea is to return from whence we came and reconnect with Mother Earth. “In a funeral process without either an urn or a coffin, people like the possibility of a ‘return to the earth,’” Tittel concludes.

For more information:

Les Sentiers Natural Cemetery:

Coopérative funéraire de l’Estrie:

– As seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 30, No. 4, April 2022

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