Natural Burials

Q & A

How is a natural burial better for the environment?

Natural Burials asked TW (John) Walker, Emeritus Professor at Lincoln University, to analyse a natural burial. He concluded that ‘natural burials’ are effectively the environment’s own death management method, so ecologically preferable to standard burial and cremations.

Decomposition is the natural process of dead animal or plant tissue being rotted or broken down. This process is carried out by invertebrates, fungi and bacteria. The result of decomposition is that the building blocks required for life can be recycled. Many Western burial techniques remove human bodies from this cycle.

Cremation and standard burial are proportionately minor contaminants compared to other human activity, but Professor Walker’s analysis shows that their impact is significant, and yet avoidable.

How quickly will I decompose?

In the right conditions, with soil touching the body, within a few years. Even bones within ten years.

What happens to my body?

The 12 basic elements in your body, like nitrogen and carbon are absorbed and transformed by plants and micro-organisms in the soil. At standard burial depth they remain inert along with your body. In cremation they gain an extra oxygen molecule and are transformed into air and soil pollution (eg. carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur oxide, mercury, dioxin, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, cadmium and chromium).

Don’t you have to bury people 6 feet under?

No, this is a myth. There is no law or by-law stipulating depth because there are no good reasons for deeper depths. It is already common in New Zealand for coffins to be stacked in family graves, with little depth between the soil surface and top coffin lid.

Don’t people have to be embalmed?

No – this is another myth. There is no law or by-law stipulating embalming. Already, around 2 out of every 100 deceased people are not embalmed in accordance with their wishes.

Aren’t dead people a health hazard?

No. Pathogens – the infections people carry when they are alive – die within 24 hours of the person’s death. NZ’s three top pathologists have confirmed to us that dead bodies pose no special or particular health risk (Professor Brett Delahunt, Chairman of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Alex Dempster, a specialist pathologist with over 25 years experience in anatomic and forensic pathology, with extensive experience performing post mortem examinations. Peter Browett, Professor of Pathology at Auckland University School of Medicine).

The myth is perpetuated by governments and media in the aftermath of disasters – where dead bodies are mistakenly treated as sources of disease. It is the LIVE people that cause disease! The United Nations and World Health Organisation have both released research studies showing dead bodies pose no special public health risk. Based on these studies the organisations have advised governments not to attempt rapid discarding of bodies post-disasters.

Do animals dig up the graves?

No. In 200 different natural cemeteries around the world, there has been no incidence. Animals have better and easier things to do.