Dust to dust: SA’s eco-friendly funeral plan

Burial, cremation – or “human composting”? An Adelaide cemetery authority is promoting environmentally friendly alternatives but there are obstacles, as Michael Robertson explains.

When it comes time for someone to make the deeply personal decision on how they’d like to be laid to rest, there are many considerations.

For a growing number of Australians, the environment is one of them.

Adelaide Cemeteries is at the forefront of driving environmental innovation in burial and cremation in South Australia.

We have been encouraged by the increasing popularity of our natural burial grounds at Enfield Memorial Park and Smithfield Memorial Park. These burial grounds allow South Australians to be laid to rest in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, so that everything that’s buried can return to the earth. It’s been so popular that we’ve opened up space for an additional 219 burial sites.

For South Australians who still prefer a more traditional option like cremation, we’re also offering greater choice. Our new community precinct at Enfield Memorial Park, which will open later this year, has world- leading cremators that reduce operational emissions by 90%.

As a community, we need to plan for tomorrow. With a rising death rate and growing concerns about our planet, we anticipate an increasing demand for more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial and cremation.

Natural organic reduction, popularly known as human composting, is a new burial trend sweeping across the US. New York has become the sixth state to legalise it.

The process involves the body of the deceased being placed into a reusable vessel, along with plant material such as wood chips and straw. Overseas, bodies are turned into soil in controlled conditions at an accelerated rate which can be used to plant trees and enrich conservation land and gardens.

Human composting is not currently permitted in Australia. It is not listed as an approved practice in state and territory legislation which only permits traditional burial and cremation. Any changes to the legislation pose many challenges. For example, the human composting soil would likely still be considered bodily remains which, under current legislation, must be interred in a prescribed burial ground.

With a rising death rate and growing concerns about our planet, we anticipate an increasing demand for more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial and cremation

There are other eco-friendly options that are gaining in popularity nationally.

Last year, anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu chose aquamation, which uses water and alkaline solutions instead of fire to cremate a body, making it more environmentally friendly than traditional cremation. Then there is cryomation, where bodies are freeze-dried in liquid nitrogen.

Today, the overwhelming majority of people continue to seek a traditional end of life offering. For many there are religious and cultural beliefs that shape this decision. Adelaide Cemeteries will always provide these traditional options. The alternatives are not going to be suitable for everyone and there are many questions to navigate through before more eco-friendly options can ever be offered in Australia.

This is a conversation that’s already started interstate. A group of young people in Melbourne advocated for human composting in last year’s Victorian Youth Parliament and a number of cemetery providers interstate are speaking to their health department about possible adjustments to legislation to include alternative body disposal methods.

Adelaide Cemeteries and funerals directors here in South Australia are receiving weekly enquiries from people wanting more eco-friendly options.

We are closely watching these developments as we continue to meet the end of life needs of the many diverse groups of people in our community.

Michael Robertson is Adelaide Cemeteries CEO

Supported by the Government of South Australia

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