Being dead is no longer an impediment to doing your bit for the environment.
New Plymouth's first natural burial area opens for business at Awanui cemetery today with 235 plots available for use by the environmentally conscious.
Though fundamentally the same as a traditional burial, those who choose to go under the natural way must do so in a chemically untreated wooden casket and forgo the usual embalming process.
And rather than being buried six feet under, a person who opts for natural burial will have only 75 centimetres of dirt on top of their casket.
Then, instead of a headstone to mark their resting place, a native tree or shrub is planted with the aim that the area will eventually become a stand of native bush.
Demand for the natural exit was low in Taranaki, said Casey Martin of Eagars Funeral Services, although she expected it to increase as people became aware of it as an option.
However, that awareness might also turn some people off.
"Quite often a person may request a natural burial but their requests might not be followed through when the family become aware of the implications of a natural burial," she said.
The main implication was the time in which a funeral must be held after death.
Without embalming the shelf life of a body is measured in a handful of days rather than a week or more if pumped full of preservative fluid.
As well as that, a corpse interred in a natural burial area must be attired in clothes of natural material, right down to the buttons on their shirts and the zips on their trousers.
Stratford undertaker Brian Darth said he had only ever had one inquiry for a natural burial and predicted it would take many years for demand to increase.
This was partly down to people's preconceptions of natural burials and indeed burials in general, he said.
"People say to us they don't want to be buried because they don't want to be eaten by worms. The thing is they don't go down six feet deep but they probably go down three feet," Mr Darth said.
A natural grave is one metre deep to allow worms and other natural processes to return the body and the casket to the earth as quickly as possible.
Despite that shallow depth and untreated nature of the coffin, Bruce Hanrahan of Vosper's Funeral Home said a natural burial was not cheaper than a conventional one.
The cost of a natural burial plot was $2658, the same as a traditional plot and the specialist nature of the untreated caskets meant they often cost more than mass-produced models.
Interment fees for natural plots were also the same as for traditional plots at $1431 despite the difference in depth.
New Plymouth District Council reserves planner Warren Dalgleish said the establishment of the natural burial site was in response to requests from the public for the option to be available.
Other sites at Waitara and Oakura were also in the pipeline but Mr Dalgleish said whether council progressed with these plans would depend on the success of Awanui.
A natural burial is characterised by: No embalming. A shallow burial of 1 metre. The use of a rapid bio-degradable non-pollutant casket. Over-planting of the grave with a native tree or shrub. No headstone installed.
- Taranaki Daily News
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