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We Can't Continue This Forever

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Victoria Lawn Cemetery . St. Catharines, Ontario

Last month when I visited Ontario, Canada to shoot my friend's wedding, I had a few hours to do a bit of exploring. The area surrounding Niagara Falls is loaded with historical sites from the War of 1812 and the Underground Railroad. Being the fan of the rebellious abolitionists that I am, I set off to find the final stop on the Underground Railroad where Harriet Tubman herself worshiped and worked- the Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Catharines.

My route to the church happened to take me not past but through the grandest, most vast cemetery I have ever seen. My jaw literally dropped wide open as I continued to drive past thousands of large, ornate and densely packed headstones on my right. Then I turned my head and actually said out loud "What the hell?!" when I saw there were thousands of headstones to my left as well! I was anxious to find the Salem Chapel but I knew I would kick myself later if I didn’t stop to photograph this cemetery.

I spent about 15 minutes wandering through the graves, marveling at the marble headstones and feeling completely overwhelmed by the vast expanse of this plot of land dedicated to burying the dead. My environmentally conscientious self looked at that land and thought about every other cemetery in the world. I could not help but think “we can’t continue this forever.” I learned later that Victoria Lawn Cemetery covers 170 acres and is the final resting place for more than 79,000 people. What I didn't consider until I met with the great Brian Flowers of Moles Farewell Tributes and Crematory is all of the other natural resources that traditional burial requires. Brian is the person responsible for bringing the Green Burial option to Whatcom County and offered me a­ wealth of information on the topic.

My jaw dropped wide open again when I learned that every year in the United States, the chemicals and materials buried along with bodies in a conventional burial include approximately:

  • 30 million board feet of hardwoods

  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze

  • 104,272 tons of steel

  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid- primarily formaldehyde*

The amount of casket wood used yearly is equivalent to about 4 million acres of forest and could build about 4.5 million homes. Mind you, these statistics are only for  the United States whose population represents just 4.27% of the total world population. This is an incredible amount of resources being buried in the ground on a yearly basis! Like I said- we can't continue this forever. Thankfully people like Brian are part of a movement toward creating more sustainable options when it comes to the disposition of bodies. As an environmentally conscientious business woman committed to sustainable business practices, I will be advocating for those sustainable options with my clients and will continue to share on this blog the valuable knowledge I am learning every day.

*Source: UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design Planning Journal

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