Returning to the earth when we die – this is the common association we have when we think of burial. But regular burial these days has become a lot less natural in practice. In the Netherlands, green cemeteries are on the rise to restore the ecological balance.
Green burial is all about removing the barriers between human remains and the earth. In regular burial, the first barrier is the coffin, made out of wood or steel and often enhanced with synthetic materials like polyester lining. Then there is the clothing of the deceased, which could be any type of material. Last but surely not least, the body itself can be embalmed, preserving its form until way after the funeral. None of these factors will entirely stop a body from decomposing, but they definitely delay the process.
In natural burial cemeteries the body is interred into the earth in a more eco-friendly way, as these green cemeteries are intended to remain unaltered pieces of nature. Burial takes place in a simple biodegradable coffin or a linen shroud so that the soil will not be polluted and a minimum amount of damage is done to the surroundings.
Biodegradable urns can also be placed inside the earth in this manner, which is why the Bios Urn is perfect for natural burial in the cemeteries that allow you to add shrubs and trees to the landscape. The Bios Urn protects the ashes until it slowly dissolves in cooperation with the soil, so that the remains are absorbed in perfect harmony with the natural elements.
The Netherlands currently holds nineteen natural burial cemeteries, with a couple more being currently set up. At a first glance they look just like any other forest or park. The graves are not marked with traditional gravestones, but small natural elements like a rock, or a piece of wood. Often the graves are not marked at all, which support the original idea of being buried in a forest that is left in its authentic state.
A very special green cemetery is the urn field in Anloo, a small village in the North of the Netherlands. Created by a Dutch couple who own this piece of land, it is meant to resemble the prehistoric tumuli – mounds of earth covering an urn. It is located near the site of the famous Dutch dolmen – the monolithic grave monuments that were built around 3350 BC. This urn field in Anloo aims to reconnect us to our older funeral practices, in a modern and sustainable manner.
Another interesting fact: burial rights for a regular cemetery in the Netherlands start at a minimum of ten years per grave, to be extended for additional costs. But as natural burial cemeteries are officially protected pieces of nature, the grave rights of these cemeteries are eternal. Each burial spot will only be opened once to insert a body or urn. After that, it is left to be integrated with nature, forever.
On the edge of a forest, right by your favorite tree, or in an open field – natural burial cemeteries give you the option of fully becoming one with the earth, just as burial was originally intended.
By Claudia Crobatia, founder of A Course in Dying
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