A group of volunteer advocates working towards creating awareness while seeking and assessing general public opinions on Green Burial within a Singapore context.
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A fear of death is a common phobia to many of us. An exploration of funeral and burial matters would present fear, uncomfortable decision-making and awkward behavior among us. However, death is still inevitable. Hence, we would eventually still need to deal with end-of-life matters.
The burial of a deceased loved one is a process involving loss and adjustment. The fundamental aspect of the funeral and burial is a public means of expressing our beliefs and feelings about the demise of the deceased person who we once loved and was important to others. It also serves to reconcile the needs of mourning and grief; and to receive support for the living to carry on as fully and healthily as possible.
Living in our pluralistic society with ever-changing values and variable cultural differences – added with an ageing population and limited land availability for burial – these social factors have influenced our planning in seeking an economical, sustainable, simple and yet memorable burial approach in providing for the deceased and their loved ones.
Furthermore, the growing awareness on global ecological issues, especially climate-change, has resulted in a worldwide initiation of “ECO” green movements. The need to safeguard earth’s natural resources and ecosystems for the benefit of our present and future generations has also contributed to the need to develop Eco-Cemeteries – hence the conceptualization of Green Burial.
Currently, Singapore offers the following:
a) Crypt Burial System (CBS),
b) Cremation system, where ashes are either kept in an urn and placed within a columbarium, or scattered within an allocated sea-area (sea burial). Cremation, within this context, is considered as being the same process of decomposition, but only scientifically accelerated and has been widely accepted among Singaporeans.
With recent developments emerging, as published in “Size of Choa Chu Kang Cemetery to be cut by one-third to make way for Tengah expansion” (The Straits Times, July 19, 2017), there is a need to acknowledge the increase of Singapore’s ageing population and the growing necessity in considering burial land concerns in future. The utilization of available land parcels by Singapore Land Authority, developers and planners for purposes such as housing, infrastructure, open space and essential public facilities has also taken precedence over the use of land for burials. In order to ensure demand does not exceed supply, there is a vital need to look for a potential alternative burial method and approach, hence the decision to work towards the realization of Green Burial within a Singapore context.
When the United Kingdom initiated the green burial process in 1993, green burial has since experienced a global emergence in recent years. Different countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America and Europe would define “Green Burial” slightly differently. Within the Singapore context, Green Burial is defined as the deposition of the cremated remains of the deceased into the soil within a natural environment and providing an opportunity for recycling and beautifying the environment.
- To provide a way for land conservation through the option of an ecological burial.
- To honor the rhythms of the natural Cycles of Life, End-of-Life and Renewal.
- To provide a simple and affordable burial method for our loved ones while preserving the beauty and natural integrity of the environment.
- To provide Green Burial as an environmentally-friendly alternative to existing burial practices in Singapore.
- To raise awareness and educate the public about land usage and conservation; environmental values; and the economical, emotional and simple benefits of Green Burial.
- To advocate for Green Burial by providing information and resources that may encourage and inspire individuals to consider available end-of-life choices and make pro-active planning based on their values and preferences.
Green Burial, within a Singapore context, is the deposition of the cremated remains of the deceased in a beautiful natural environment, devoid of storage time limit. The cremated remains of the deceased will be buried in soil either by direct scattering into the soil or placing a bio-urn among plants (e.g.: trees, shrubs or flowers), allowing the bio-urn to naturally decompose.
The Green Burial method provides an alternative to our existing burial practices, namely the Crypt Burial System (CBS), storage of ashes in the columbarium and sea burial.
Through Green Burial, no headstone, tablet, incense-burning or artificial decorations are involved. Plants (e.g.: trees, shrubs or flowers) are used as elements in the emotional formula for handling grief and memorializing our loved ones. The Green Burial concept combines the power and effect of individual memorials into an experience of statement of life and hope.
Green Burial creates a tranquil and respectful place of remembrance and the green garden results in the creation of new habitats within the landscape. Green Burial is a feasible and dignified way which embraces all aspects of sustainable development – be it environmental, socio-cultural, economical and psychological – for the provision of burials in Singapore, a multicultural society.
Land Scarcity and Land Use Challenges
In a time of dwindling resources and shortage of land for burial, Green Burial provides an alternative option to grave burials and the current most widely-used method of storing ashes in niches. Through Green Burial, the cremated remains of the deceased will be buried in soil either by direct scattering into the soil or through the use of bio-urns in designated locations. The same location will be reused once an urn degrades, thus, the ecologically-friendly reuse of land.
Environmental Values in “A City in the Garden”
Green Burial sites are preserved as natural landscapes by trees, shrubs and flowers; as well as being safe refuges to birds and other wildlife. Hence, there is minimal environmental impact, legitimate ecological aims, conservation of natural resources, as well as maintenance and improvement in the fertile conditions of the land.
The Green Burial site will be a calming and comfortable resting place for the deceased and able to evoke feelings of comfort and peacefulness for the living relatives, thus providing continuity of contact between the living relatives and the deceased. Hence, the living relatives are able to have a loving, personalized way of saying goodbye to their loved ones. This method also aids in the preparedness for end-of-life; and is convenient and easy for visiting. The Green Burial site would provide a scenic view, replacing physical memorials such as tablets and tombstones. The environment aims to put the mind at peace, knowing that as the loved one’s ashes are returned to earth, there is new life is thriving. There shall also be no further worries about after-death matters, such as exhumation.
The cost for Green Burial and other related financial expenses would be much lesser (scattering of ashes into the soil or using a bio-urn at S$175) as compared to the following:
a) Crypt Burial System (CBS): Up to S$420 for children and S$940 for adults;
b) Storage of ashes in the columbarium: Minimum S$1,180 to S$100,000; and
c) Sea Burial: More than S$1,000.
Green Burial lessens the burden on the deceased’s offspring or family members. The naturally beautiful environment also aims to aid in grief recovery.
Awareness of ecological impacts
It is undeniable that individuals have become increasingly more aware of the impact that we have on the environment. This awareness has driven us to adopt living practices that enables the reduction of our ecological footprints.
Where is the Green Burial site?
The Green Burial site would be either located at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery/ Columbarium, and/or Mandai Columbarium. Alternatively, a separate landscape may be located.
How to locate a deceased’s burial site?
Ways can be implemented to locate a deceased’s burial location by using greeneries such as shrubs and trees as grave-markers on the cemetery map. More advanced technologies such as the GPS system may be employed to locate the actual lot, or by using 3D objects, memorial texts and images that are located on Google Earth.
To promote Green Burial in Singapore, the challenges will be awareness and concept knowledge, Sociocultural and Planning.
Awareness and Concept Knowledge Challenges
At present, awareness and concept knowledge in green burials is low, especially in Singapore context. Most information that public receiving is from incidental sources. Therefore, an extensive of awareness and education campaigns -TV, Radio talk and Road shows etc. will be effective. There is also a need to have community consultation with religious groups or online discussions.
Singapore is a multiracial, multi-religious and cultural society, hence, need to be considered in green burial practice to facilitate the needs of these groups in term of validation and solace; memorialization and burial –“ru tu wei an” 入土为安.
Validation and Solace
In the absence of a headstone, bereaved visitors could be imaginative in conceptualizing the uniqueness of the deceased’s grave by using shrubs and trees as a living memorial as identity of the deceased and recorded on crematory map and burial register.
Creating a walking pathway with benches allow “a sense of connection” between themselves the nature and their loved ones.
Wall niche memorial: name of the deceased, date of birth and date of death as emotional agents. As cremated remains of the deceased will be buried in soil, filled the needs of “ru tu wei an” 入土为安.
Green Burial approaches offers few means for memorialization integrating with deceased’s living relatives, hence, employing online memorials could be serve as a means to encourage human relational and environmentally-sensitive burial:
Virtual Memorialization: Permanent website offers direct, individual memorialization opportunity.
Visualized viewing: using Google Earth and Google Sketch Up:
Cemetery maps are embedded on the Google globe
Balloons mark particular deceased’s burial location. When expired I/C number is keyed in, 3D trees with deceased photo will appear
Facebook, a personalized memorialization wall
Planning and Implementation Challenges
Planners and land management authorities, e.g. NEA etc. to determine sustainability of Green Burial:
Best use for burial lands
Economic realization of highest
How to best monitor and manage the environmental sustainability sites
The formulation of best practice guidelines
To monitor the then ongoing environmental feasibility of sites
Given the ‘newness’ of the concept of green burials there is the need for further research
Green Burial has the potential to become a feasible burial alternative in Singapore through steady gaining of exposure and acceptance from the public.
The concept of Green Burial provides a solution to assist in alleviating land shortage for burial and provides a relatively new and innovative way of land use.
However, death is an intensely personal issue and there needs to be sensitivity when taking into consideration the promoting and gaining of acceptance of Green Burial in Singapore.
‘Green burial’ encouraged by Lan Tian (China Daily) 2010-04-01
China issues green burial guidelines Chunmei Source： Sino-US.com 2016-02-25
Ecological Citizenship and Green Burial in China Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics December 2016, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 985–1001
多地劲吹绿色殡葬风 节地生态葬环保又庄重 2017-04-04 – Beijing provide free burial fee for green burial
In crowded Hong Kong, ‘green’ burials might be the best solution -With unauthorized facilities now outlawed, the government should encourage alternatives such as scattering ashes in the sea and in memorial gardens
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, 06 June, 2017 SouthChina Morning Post
For baby boomers, return returning to nature emerges as alternative burial option, The Japan Times, 22 Jan 2014
Jan 11, 2012 – Republic of China (Taiwan) … Tree burial: refers to a burial in which the cremated ashes are mixed … the municipal government at the municipal level, the township (town, …. Cemeteries shall have public green open space not less than??? … burials are allowed to have the tree burial area included in the area. http://www.moi.gov.tw/english/english_law/law_detail.aspx?sn=166
Eco-burials on the rise: ministry
REST IN PEACE: More than 16,000 people since 2001 have adopted alternative burial methods, such as tree or flower burials, a top Department of Civil Affairs official said Taipei Times, Apr 05, 2015 – Page 3
Trend toward green burials on the rise in Taiwan: ministry 2017/04/02 http://focustaiwan.tw/news/asoc/201704020010.aspx
Taipei leads the way on green burials, The China Post News Staff Monday, April 10, 2017
埔心第5公墓樹葬 宛如長眠公園 2017-05-06 Liberty Times Net
Seoul to open ‘tree burial’ site for its citizens 2011/04/05 Yonghap News Agency