Nelson city council has approved a bylaw to allow natural burials at the Memorial Park cemetery.
Natural burials involve human remains being buried without embalming in a biodegradable container, rather than a traditional casket and without the use of a grave liner.
The idea to allow natural burials came from the Nelson End of Life Society (NELS) who asked the city to investigate the potential to offer green burials at the cemetery.
A green burial is similar to a natural one but involves designating an area which will be planted with indigenous trees, shrubs and ground covers allowing the grave to integrate with local ecosystems.
In July, staff was directed to further investigate if natural burials were already permitted, after council debated whether they currently were allowed. Staff discovered that they weren’t, prompting the motion to approve the natural burial bylaw.
Because green burials would require a separate area in the cemetery, further planning and investigation is required. However with a natural burial, additional land and landscaping is not necessary, which is why it was approved first.
City staff said the process to allow green burials is more complex because additional fees would be required to maintain the area. They said it will be discussed in 2024 when the parks and cemeteries master plan is being developed.
NELS has been advocating for green burials since 2018 when the group gave its first presentation to council. During June’s committee of the whole, the group approached council again to express the need to offer green burials in the community.
Lily Mayall, board member of NELS, says while her group is happy to see some progress, natural burials are very different than green ones and the bylaw doesn’t meet the needs of what was requested.
“I guess we’re happy to see a small step, but it certainly doesn’t meet any of the interests we have which is really to give people the option to have a green burial area. So, we’re disappointed but they’re promising that in 2024 it’s likely going to be part of a bigger plan. I know it’s a big ask and we realize there needs to be planning.”
According to Mayall, green burials are an environmentally friendly process that removes the need for cremation, which she explains causes a significant impact to the environment.
“Right now, 85 per cent of us are getting cremated in Nelson, and people don’t realize that there’s a huge environmental impact to that. The amount of fossil fuels that are consumed and the pollution is overwhelming and disastrous. It’s not a good choice for the environment.”
She says environmental impact and meeting the needs of people in the community is the driving force behind her group advocating for this in Nelson.
A petition supporting green burials in Nelson has over 1,500 signatures. Mayall says the numbers signify how important it is to the community.
Mayall says the only option at present to have a green burial close to Nelson is at the Dumont Creek Cemetery in Winlaw. However, she says NELS has been informed that in the future, they will not be able to accommodate requests from Nelson residents as they are running out of space.
New Denver’s cemetery will also be offering green burials starting Sept. 23. Mayall says the process took four years of planning, whereas her society has been asking for over six years with still no solution.
“We gave our presentation in 2018 and then city council changed, and it hasn’t been a priority. I mean, they claim to be green, but this is not a priority for them.”
She says NELS has been told an area above the cemetery and below the railway tracks would be an appropriate spot, but it will depend on what comes from the parks and cemetery master plan to know if it’s a viable option.
“Our vision is to have an area that’s just for green burials and so it can be planted with all the indigenous trees and plants and goes back to nature. Something that doesn’t look at all like a cemetery. It just looks like the natural landscape.”
Council plans to formally adopt the natural burial bylaw in the near future and will continue to discuss how the city can offer green burials in 2024.