Extracted from 'The Charter For the Bereaved'
Environmental issues have not featured prominently with regard to
bereavement, possibly due to the sensitivity of the subject. This
view is changing as environmental issues become increasingly
important. The inclusion of the cremation process in the
Environmental Protection Act 1990 is the most recent example of
this. The services associated with bereavement have more impact on
the environment than might be initially considered. Improvements in
this area are very relevant to: “Acting locally – thinking
globally”. Environmental issues are also elsewhere in the Charter
under “Coffins and Alternatives”, "Maintenance of Grounds and
Gravedigging" and in Appendix B, "Information on Embalming".
Environmental concerns are summarised below:
Cremation has progressed from coke fired through to gas and
electric cremators over a period of 100 years. Almost all cremators
use gas. The use of gas, a finite reserve, and the creation of air
pollution, are adverse criticisms of this process. To keep this in
perspective, the historical factors which support cremation need to
be considered. Cremation was introduced in response to the ever
increasing use of land for burial. Using the land for producing
food was important, particularly following the last world war. In
addition, the clean and clinical impact of cremation was seen as
“modern”. More recently, increasing support for burial has emerged.
This may be partly in response to adverse criticism of the “factory
line” process levelled at crematoria. Land is also no longer at a
premium for the production of food, and is being “set aside”.
Further support arises from the potential re-use of graves, which
precludes the creation of sprawling, derelict, Victorian type
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires that all
cremators must comply with specified emission requirements by 1998.
Consequently, a massive cremator re-placement programme is taking
place, which has greatly increased the cost of cremation. The new
cremators also requires a threefold, or even higher, increase in
gas consumption in order to meet the requirements of this Act. Any
increase in the need to monitor or control emissions will lead to
further escalation of costs. The increasing emphasis on new
techniques such as Air Quality Management (AQM) are likely to
increase costs event further.
Burial is sometimes suggested as a more environmentally
acceptable alternative to cremation, as no air pollution is
created. Such comments ignore the impact of herbicides and petrol
mowers routinely used in cemeteries, often over long periods of
time. In addition, the effects of interring chipboard and plastic
coffins are unknown. Finally, the pollutant effects of burial on
water supplies is generally unresearched. The benefits of the new
woodland burial schemes appear to overcome many of these problems,
particularly where they are associated with the use of
bio-degradable coffins and a reduction in embalming. Further
research into these issues is urgently required.
The environmental and visual value of cemeteries to the local
community has generally been ignored. The older sections often date
back to Victorian times. They usually contain the oldest trees in
the locality, and provide habitats for mammals, wildflowers,
insects, bats and birds. The old stone memorials are often the only
available habitat for lichens and mosses. Changing mowing regimes,
placing bird and bat boxes and replanting herbaceous borders with
butterfly plat species, are small yet effective parts of this
process. These improvements to the older sections can complement
intensive high quality maintenance in current and more recently
used burial areas.
The environmental benefits of turning old burial areas into
wildlife reserves are twofold. Firstly; there is a reduction in
fossil fuel and herbicide usage. Secondly, the increasing birds and
wildlife create a valuable resource, offering benefits to the
grieving process as well as increasing leisure/educational
possibilities for the community. This process does not impact on
graves visited by mourners and is generally supported by the
majority of those using the grounds.
The value of nature in improving the grieving process is rarely
identified and yet, is very important. A singing bird, a beautiful
tree, or a colourful bedding display, are all therapeutic and
symbolic of new life. The alternative is the cemetery blighted by
weed killer, without trees and a true harbinger of death.
Other Environmental Issues
Other environmental issues involved with bereavement have been
identified but have not received any specific attention on a
national scale. This is due to the sensitivity of the issue and in
some cases, difficulty in identifying the actual owner of the item
or materials involved eg Prostheses belong to the NHS.
These issues include:
- The use of environmentally friendly chemicals to clean memorial
stones, as an alternative to caustic acids.
- Composting a greater amount of mown grass, leaves, flowers and
other plant material removed from the grounds.
- A reduction in the use of herbicides/chemicals and peat used in
- Retaining cut timber in habitat piles, rather than burning
which releases the carbon content.
- Increasing tree planting in order to offset carbon dioxide
- Reducing the use of moss and lichens in the construction of
wreaths and other floral tributes.
- Re-using wreath frames and associated fittings (generally
plastic), as an alternative to their destruction.
- Sourcing alternatives to teak, mahogany and other hardwoods,
used in the construction of garden seats, burial caskets, etc.
- Returning the metal content of hip and other bone repair
implements (prostheses) to the NHS, for recycling following removal
from cremated remains.
Other issues have been identified which involve bereavement but
are beyond the remit of the Charter eg the environmental damage
caused by the production of cut flowers and quarrying eg stone in
foreign countries, which are then imported into the UK.
(2) Charter Rights
(a) You have a right to be aware of all known environmental
issues relating to bereavement services. Information will be
available through this Charter and by direct contact with your
local Charter member.
(3) Charter Targets
(a) Charter members should strive to improve environmental
efficiency and understanding, relating to bereavement. Due
consideration should be given to the conservation of wildlife and
management according to sound ecological principles.
(b) Charter members should establish researched environmental
impact data for all aspects of bereavement.
(c) Charter members should co-ordinate their efforts in order to
improve the aspects outlined under “Further Information” above.
(d) Charter members should create strategies for enhancing the
wildlife value of cemeteries and crematoria grounds. This is
particularly important in the creation of new cremation and burial
(e) Charter members should introduce services that directly
enhance the environment, as an integral part of the bereavement
experience. Woodland and wildflower graves are an example of such
(f) Charter members should contribute to a reduction in global
warming by reducing their total energy consumption