Natural burials the way to go

CIRCLE OF LIFE: An eco-coffin designed by Greg Holdsworth.
CIRCLE OF LIFE: An eco-coffin designed by Greg Holdsworth.

More people are opting for a natural burial or eco funeral, ensuring they can leave one final statement behind on how they cared for the environment – even though they won't be alive to make it.

Now, hot on the heels of Wellington and Taranaki, Hamilton is looking to establish its first natural burial site.

There are more than 300 natural burial sites in the United Kingdom and more than a dozen in the United States but the idea has taken longer to catch on in New Zealand because people aren't allowed to be buried on private land.

But that doesn't mean there is a lack of interest.

Wellington City Council established a natural burial site at Makara in 2008 and New Plymouth District Council set up up the second site last year.

Christchurch, Palmerston North and Whanganui councils are looking for sites or funding and there is strong interest from public groups in Wairarapa, Blenheim, Dunedin and Rodney, Natural Burials director Mark Blackham said.

Hamilton City Council yesterday called for public feedback on having a natural burial site within the Hamilton Park Cemetery.

Mr Blackham established his non-profit organisation in 1999 after the death of his first child.

He wanted an alternative to the traditional burial, which involves a standard casket, embalming and often burials six feet deep.

A natural burial is free of chemicals and a person is buried only 50 centimetres to one metre deep, the best depth for a body to decompose. The body is not embalmed, but is kept refrigerated instead, or treated with oils. A natural casket, cardboard or shroud is used instead of a standard casket which is usually made from treated wood.

A tree, instead of a plaque, is planted on top of where the body is buried.

Since the Wellington cemetery opened in 2008, 55 of the 205 plots have been filled, including one last week.

"It's really humming now," Mr Blackham said: "Five years ago it was, `I haven't heard of that but it sounds good', now it's 'I have heard of that and I'd like it'."

About 5 per cent to 10 per cent of people are now choosing not to be embalmed while Mr Blackham estimated the number of people opting for cremation had dropped from 80 per cent a few years ago to 70 per cent now. It all came down to choice, he said.