The push to be more environmentally conscious is infiltrating the cemetery industry.

Edmonton’s first "green burial" site has opened at a southwest cemetery.

“With each year passing, there’s just more and more of the public that is interested in this and are starting to inquire," said Rosehill Cemetery Manager Marc Turgeon.

A one-acre area at Rosehill has been dedicated to green burials, with space for about 750 plots.

"There’s no use of embalming chemicals to preserve the body for extended period of time, so you’re promoting the decomposition to take place," said Turgeon.

"There’s no use of concrete burial vaults to again preserve the remains or preserve the settling of the soil, so you’re just letting everything happen naturally."

The deceased must be buried in a certified biodegradable casket or a shroud, and instead of traditional grass seed, native grasses and plants are grown on individual graves.

"The whole mindset is that there is nothing remaining and that you’re basically returning this area back to nature," said Turgeon. "The other options that are available—cremation or traditional burial—each in their own way do have an impact on the environment, whereas this is really the only true option that has minimal impact."

'It’s been important to me for a long time'

Debby Harink has been advocating for green burials for years so she was excited to hear about Rosehill’s new site.

"Even as a child, I would go to funerals with my parents and the embalming. The very fancy elaborate coffins were actually almost repulsing to me as a child," said Harink.

"I would speak about it in my teens saying I would like something to be natural, not to have all that happen to my body. But I also think how awful for the earth that we’re doing this."

Harink says both she and her husband have made it known to their children they want to be buried "green."

"I seriously just think it’s so valuable for our land and our earth and taking care of people in a dignified way.”

Not a new concept

Turgeon says green burials have been around for decades but the uptake in Canada has been slow.

"With cemeteries, space is at a premium so you have to be able to separate a part of your cemetery to designate to this program."

That said, with growing interest in the environment, he expects other area cemeteries will soon follow suit.

"It’s ironic because it is reverting back to what was done 100 years before the age of embalming, vaults and fancy caskets—everyone was buried in a green manner."

The City of Edmonton is in the concept planning stage of “natural burial” at Northern Lights and South Haven cemeteries, but haven’t set a date on when that option will be available.