This guide aims to provide information for those who have an interest in the options for a green funeral or natural burial in Canada. We have outlined resources and organizations that are dedicated to helping Canadians learn more about green death practices.
What is a green or natural burial?
A green funeral is a funeral that is conducted with minimal environmental impact. It is often referred to as a natural burial. Generally, the burial involves only biodegradable materials, the burial site seeks to maintain the natural area, sometimes even working to help return the natural conservation of the land.
No chemical intervention (embalming) is permitted. The burial receptacle must be made of biodegradable material. No burial vault is used. A simple earth grave plot is dug. At some natural burial sites no memorial markers are permitted. Although some green burial cemeteries do allow small natural organic stone markers.
How do I find a natural burial plot? Directory of Green Burial sites across Canada
Visit our green burial cemetery directory page that lists the green burial cemeteries across Canada. Most of the green burial sites in Canada are hybrid green cemeteries. This means that they were established as a traditional cemetery, but have now dedicated a section as a bespoke natural burial area.
Some of these natural burial sections are being devoted to conservation and returning the land to its natural beauty with land stewardship and re-planting. There are a few cemeteries that are dedicated natural burial (NB) conservation burial grounds.
Natural burial grounds become a sanctuary for both the dead and the living. Those buried nurture the earth, and help to restore natural ecosystems. The designation of land as burial ground protects that land in perpetuity, ensuring said land is protected for future generations as a natural habitat. Local indigenous species are encouraged to flourish and this is extremely important in this era where climate change is dominating the future of the environment for future generations.
How much does a green burial cost?
The cost for a green burial can vary by province and cemetery. Typically a green funeral is less expensive than a traditional funeral, as we eliminate the need for an elaborate casket, burial vault, embalming and a traditional headstone.
A natural burial is likely to cost in the region of $3,000 to $5,000 taking into account the funeral home service charge and typical green burial plot pricing.
How quickly after death does a natural burial take place?
There is no rigid time frame on how quickly a natural burial should take place. As the body is not embalmed you may have to consider refrigerated storage at a funeral home if you wish to take some time before the burial. Families that opt for home care of the deceased using dry ice may need to arrange the burial within a shorter time frame.
What happens if the deceased had medical implants?
You would need to check with the bylaws of the cemetery but many do accept bodies that with medical implants. Although it is not strictly ideal to bury a body in a natural setting with non-biodegradable materials, it is still a very minimal environmental impact compared to a traditional burial.
Can a natural burial be conducted on my own land?
This is dependent on the Province and the cemetery legislation in place. In Ontario, a body (or cremated remains) must be interred in a licensed cemetery. So, the land would have to be established as a licensed cemetery for a burial to be legally done on private land.
Can a family conduct a natural burial without a funeral director?
You are not required by law to employ the services of a funeral home. Read our guide to Family-led death care or conducting a Home Funeral. Many families find the services of a funeral director helpful in obtaining the necessary paperwork and transporting the deceased.
If you do decide to use the assistance of a funeral home, you may wish to find a funeral home that has experience in green funerals. This will ensure they can fully meet your needs, may carry biodegradable burial containers, and be familiar with the natural burial site options in your Province.
What eco-friendly coffin options are there?
For a natural burial you will need a biodegradable receptacle. This can be a simple wood, bamboo, wicker or cardboard coffin. Alternatively, a burial shroud made from linen, cotton, muslin or wool may be used.
What kind of grave marker is permitted in a natural burial cemetery?
Cemetery bylaw dictates that the cemetery must be able to show a family where their loved one is buried. However, a natural burial site may opt to use small natural markers, such as a locally-sourced stone or rock. This keeps the natural area organic and maintains a natural conservation legacy.
Sometimes, natural burial cemeteries may have a communal marker, and of course today we can employ technology such as GPS to identify burial plots.
Can natural burials be done in the winter months?
Yes, burials still go ahead in winter. It does require more planning and special equipment, but as demand for natural burial grows, more cemeteries will ensure that they can attend to burial all year round.
History of green burial in Canada
Green burial is essentially a ‘revival’ of the way we used to bury our dead. The green burial movement happening now has its roots in the UK. With a cremation rate reaching almost 95% in the 1990’s concerns around the environment, climate change, fuel consumption and emissions began to affect the death care sector.
At the same time, conservation groups were concerned about the erosion of the natural landscape. So, these two concerns converged and spearheaded a movement to adopt and promote natural burial. To reduce the negative effects of cremation and restore natural woodlands and meadows.
Since then the movement has spread to the USA and is slowly being adopted in Canada. The first natural burial cemetery was opened in Victoria, BC in 2008. Now there are several green cemeteries in a number of Provinces, and hopefully more will follow.
Green Burial Organizations that help families
There are several organizations across Canada that help families understand and access natural burial alternatives. We have listed some below.
The Green Burial Society of Canada – Provides accreditation to green burial cemeteries
Natural Burial Association (Ontario)
Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives (CINDEA) – Provides resources to help families with a home funeral and the laws pertaining to each Province.
Memorial Society of British Columbia
Green Burial and Natural Burial in the News
Green Burials are cheaper and legal, says funeral director CBC Feb 10, 2018
My thoughts on Green Burial in Canada Dying with Dignity Oct 16, 2020