Green funerals

Green lawn with bench and tree

There are various environmentally friendly options for funerals.

The NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria is the NSW Government body that oversees the interment industry. NSW Health's website details all regulations relating to the disposal of the deceased.

Natural burials

Natural burials allow the body to return to nature in a way that does not inhibit decomposition. The body is dressed in biodegradable clothing and prepared without chemical preservatives and disinfectants. The burial park has no headstones but a central commemorative feature records the names of those buried. Relatives know the exact location using GPS technology. Sydney’s first natural burial park at Kemps Creek opened in 2010.

More information on natural burials:

Trailer for the movie A Will for the Woods – a green burial documentary.

Trailer for the movie Dying Green – a film about natural burial and land conservation.

Cremations and burials

There are more than 50,000 deaths a year in NSW with two-thirds opting for cremations and one-third for burials. Around 230 operators provide interment services in NSW.

The Chain O’Ponds Memorial Park and Crematorium near Kempsey on the north coast of NSW is powered by off-grid solar power and battery technology.

Water cremation - aquamation

The world’s first aquamation funeral took place in Australia. Aquamation employs a process of alkaline hydrolysis in which the body is placed in a stainless-steel vat containing a potassium hydroxide and water solution for four hours until what remains is only the skeleton. Aquamation accelerates the process that occurs in nature. Even the residual liquid can be recycled.

Advantages: It uses 10% of energy needed for cremation and there are no emissions. Pacemakers need not be removed beforehand and implants such as titanium hip implants can be reused as they remain intact and sterile. Items of jewellery, gold teeth, etc, can also be recovered. The funeral ceremony is exactly the same; loved ones view the coffin go behind a curtain. Bones remain as they do after a cremation; if requested, they can be returned to the family in the form of ashes.

More information on aquamation

Coffins, shrouds and urns

Coffins and caskets slow the process of decomposition. You can opt for biodegradable environmentally friendly coffins or shrouds instead. Some options are:

Natural/eco-friendly caskets such as those made of willow, wicker and hand-woven. For example those produced by Hand Woven Caskets Co.

Cardboard coffins such as those from Leaving Lightly and personalised coffins from LifeArt.

Bios urnbiodegradable scattering tubes, earth urns, cornstarch urns, salt urns.

Coeio produces biodegradable burial suits made from mushrooms and other micro-organisms.

Burials at sea

In Australia burials at sea are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, which is administered by the Department of the Environment and Energy. People seeking to arrange a burial at sea will require a sea dumping permit. No permit is required to scatter ashes.

More details on burials at sea

Donating to science

You could donate your body to medical science, including your organs. This is a conscious decision you must make and arrange prior to your death. It is not something your family can opt to do after your death. Most universities teaching medical courses have body donation programs:

University of Sydney

University of New South Wales

University of Technology Sydney

Macquarie University

Australia’s first human body farm opened in lower Blue Mountains and you can donate your body for the purpose of taphonomic research, ie for the study of decomposition of bodies after death. This research will help scientists as well as forensic scientists and anthropologists.

FAQs 

What permissions do we need to scatter ashes?

It is important to get permission to scatter ashes from the owners of private land, the Crown Trust for parks and reserves, and from local councils for parks, beaches and playing fields.

More details on scattering ashes

Can you bury on private land?

Strict regulations control burial on private property. NSW Health guideline, Burials on private land, sets out the conditions on which approvals may be granted. Is embalming necessary?

Embalming

Embalming is the process of replacing bodily fluids with chemical fluids and is not required by law except in some cases.

Embalming - What you should know

What happens to metals from joint replacements?

Many cemeteries send the metals like steel and titanium they collect from cremated bodies for recycling. Battery-powered medical aids such as pacemakers, for example, explode inside cremators and are required to be removed.

Can I request a memorial plaque in Ku-ring-gai’s parks and reserves?

A significant memorial space must be planned, designed and approved by Council before it can be installed. Where a small memorial item is proposed, plaques may be considered if attached to items of appropriate furniture. The plaque and furniture including installation will be funded by the applicant, through a donation for works. Not all parks and reserves are available for this service.

Memorial tree planting must be pre-approved and memorial plaques are not permitted for trees unless specially authorised by Council. Memorial items will be included in routine maintenance by Council.

More information

Natural Death Advocacy Network (NDAN)

Environmental impacts of funerals infographic

Australian Museum web page - My options after death