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Green Burial Society of Canada holds 5th annual AGM in Halifax

Do-it-yourself pine boxes like this one from the Fiddlehead Casket Company are considered a greener alternative to traditional, ornate coffins.
Do-it-yourself pine boxes like this one from the Fiddlehead Casket Company are considered a greener alternative to traditional, ornate coffins. - Chris Muise

Local advocacy group urges for greener burials

None of us are going to live forever – eventually, we've all gotta go. One grassroots advocacy group in Nova Scotia is saying, if you've gotta go, why not go green?

Deborah Luscomb and her business partner Dawn Carson are all too familiar with the process of death. Their company, Death Matters, sees them helping families through process of a loved one's death, from the first signs of illness to the funeral and beyond, if need be. Their business cards list them as “death awareness educators,” but they refer to themselves as “death doulas.”

Luscomb is also the chair of Green Burial Nova Scotia, an advocacy group run through the Ecology Action Centre that espouses the values of shuffling off our mortal coils with a much smaller carbon footprint.

Luscomb calls funerals with ornate caskets, varnished and lined with brass handles, a “conventional” burial; she wants to see us return to “traditional” burial practices.

“It's putting a body in the earth, maybe in a shroud, or in a basket, or in a casket that is not treated wood,” says Luscomb. “It has to break down in the soil.”

It may seem like splitting hairs which kind of box we bury ourselves in. But Luscomb says the foreign materials add up to a big problem down the road.

“It's got polyester batting and layers of satin, and all kinds of synthetic stuff,” says Luscomb. “Eventually what happens is all of those things will break down, over hundreds of years, and what's been created in this anaerobic environment is a toxic soup. The natural breakdown and return to the earth of the corpse cannot happen. Nasty stuff gets into our water table.”

Luscomb says she's been passionate about this issue for the past 15 years, as she started to consider what she would want her loved ones to do with her body once she was gone.

“I'm a baby boomer; in my youth, we brought sex out of the closet,” she says. “Then we reformed childbirth - I had my babies at home. And now we're all dying, and going, ‘wait a minute, there's something wrong with this picture.’ We've been trying to save this planet, and look what's going on in the funeral industry!”

Luscomb invited the national chapter, The Green Burial Society of Canada, to host its annual general meeting in Halifax at the new Central Library. The president of the society, Catriona Hearn from Vancouver, was happy to oblige.

“We've always wanted to spread across the country,” says Hearn. “I think Nova Scotia is really ready for this. There is a lot of interest here.”

About 50 attendees interested in the movement showed up to the meeting, many of whom were interested in a green burial, but didn't know how to go about one.

“I'm really concerned about the environment,” says Violet Rosegarten, a senior resident of Dartmouth. “I've been thinking about this for a while, that I would really like to have a green burial for myself. But I didn't really know anything about it.”

A panel of local and national Green Burial Society representatives explained the tenets of the movement, took questions from the audience, and showcased a build-it-yourself pine casket kit available from New Brunswick-based Fiddlehead Casket Company.

“I saw a void in the offerings from the funeral homes, and kind of a disconnect between what they're offering and what some people are looking for,” says company founder Jeremy Burrill, whose set costs just $789 and shipping. It requires no nails or glue; just a few wooden dowels that come included.

Getting the attention of the national chapter is huge for Luscomb, because that is the road to getting local cemeteries certified by the society.

“More and more places in Nova Scotia that are offering green burial,” Luscomb said before the meeting. “None of them are certified by the Green Burial Society of Canada yet, but that's coming.”

Luscomb's words were truer than she knew. The big surprise of the event – which left Luscomb in tears – was the announcement of Nova Scotia's first nationally-certified green burial provider: Sunrise Park Cemetery in Hatchet Lake..

Sunrise Park Cemetary owner Wayne Hatcher was announced to be the first Green Burial Society of Canada-certified green burial provider in Nova Scotia. - Chris Muise
Sunrise Park Cemetary owner Wayne Hatcher was announced to be the first Green Burial Society of Canada-certified green burial provider in Nova Scotia. - Chris Muise

“We have opened up 600 cemetery plots for green burial,” says Wayne Hatcher, owner and operator of Sunrise Park. “It is a big thank you to the Green Burial Society of Nova Scotia here, that made such an impact, that I decided to open up that 600 plot.”

“These people have passed the bar - our bar - and proven to us that they offer true green burial,” Hearn explains.

Even nationally, very few green burials have taken place yet. But Luscomb believes a movement of change is on the way, and she wants to be there to help people go out greener.

“I will be . . . if I don't go first,” Luscomb jokes. “I have a lot of clients who have put this in their funeral directives . . . it's really thinking forward.”

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