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Environmental impact

Environmental impact

The information given on this page is extracted from the reference copy of the Charter for the Bereaved, and is reproduced by permission of the Charter Organiser. Chesterfield Borough Council has adopted the Charter and is committed to providing the defined consumer rights encompassed within it, with regard to burial and cremation services. To obtain a copy of the Charter for the Bereaved, please contact:

Bereavement Services
Chesterfield and District Crematorium
Chesterfield Road
S43 1AU
Tel: 01246 345 888

1. Environmental issues


Environmental issues have not featured prominently with regard to bereavement, possibly due to the sensitivity of the subject. This view is changing as environmental concerns become increasingly important. The requirement for crematoria to remove mercury from emissions to air by 2013 is a typical recent example of this. The services associated with bereavement have more impact on the environment than might be initially considered. Improvements in this area are very relevant to "Thinking globally – Acting locally."

Environmental issues are also covered elsewhere in the Charter under "COFFINS AND ALTERNATIVES," "MAINTENANCE OF GROUNDS AND GRAVE DIGGING" and "INFORMATION ON EMBALMING."

Environmental concerns are summarised below.


Cremation has progressed from, coke-fired through to gas and electric cremators over a period of 125 years. Almost all cremators use gas. The use of gas, a finite resource, and the creation of air pollution are some of the key criticisms of this process. To keep this in perspective, the historical factors that support cremation need to be considered. Cremation was introduced in response to the ever-increasing use of land for burial in the 19th century. Using the land for producing food was important, particularly following the last World War. In addition, the clean and clinical impact of cremation was seen as "modern." More recently, an increasing in the popularity of burial has emerged. This may be partly in response to criticism of the "production line" process levelled at crematoria. Land is also no longer at a premium for the production of food, and is being "set aside." Further environmental benefits arise from the potential re-use of graves, which run counter to the creation of sprawling, derelict, Victorian type cemeteries.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 required that all cremators had to comply with specified emission requirements by 1998. Consequently, a massive cremator re-placement programme took place, which has greatly increased the cost of cremation. The new cremators also require a threefold, or even higher, increase in gas consumption in order to fulfil the requirements of this Act. Trends towards further controls on emissions will lead to an escalation of costs and charges. The growing emphasis on new techniques such as Air Quality Management (AQM) is likely to increase costs even further.


Burial is sometimes suggested as a more environmentally acceptable alternative to cremation, as no air pollution is created. However, this view ignores the impact of herbicides and petrol mowers routinely used in cemeteries, often over long periods. In addition, the effects of interring chipboard and plastic coffins are unknown. Finally, the pollutant effects of burial on groundwater supplies are not widely understood. The benefits of the new woodland burial schemes appear to overcome many of these problems, particularly where they are associated with the use of biodegradable coffins and a reduction in embalming.

The environmental and amenity value of cemeteries to the local community has generally been ignored. The older sections often date back to Victorian times. They usually contain the oldest trees in the locality, and provide habitats for mammals, wildflowers, insects, bats and birds. The natural stone memorials are often the only locally available habitat for lichens and mosses. Changing mowing regimes, placing bird and bat boxes and replanting herbaceous borders with butterfly plant species, are small yet effective contributions to improving the environmental benefits of cemeteries and burial grounds. These improvements to the older sections can help counter the impacts of highly intensive maintenance in current and more recently used burial areas.

The environmental benefits of turning old burial areas into wildlife reserves are twofold. Firstly, there is a reduction in fossil fuel and herbicide usage. Secondly, the ensuing growth in bird and wildlife populations creates a valuable resource, offering benefits to the grieving process as well as increasing leisure/educational possibilities for the community. This process does not impact on graves visited by mourners and is generally supported by the majority of those using the grounds.

The value of nature in improving the grieving process is rarely identified and yet, is very important. A singing bird, a beautiful tree, or a colourful bedding display, are all therapeutic and symbolic of new life. The alternative is a cemetery blighted by weed killer, without trees and a true harbinger of death.

Further information

Other environmental issues associated with bereavement have been identified but have not received any specific attention on a national scale.

These issues include:

  • the use of environmentally friendly chemicals to clean memorial stones, as an alternative to caustic acids
  • composting a greater amount of mown grass, leaves, flowers and other plant material removed from the grounds
  • a reduction in the use of herbicides/chemicals and peat used in grounds maintenance
  • retaining cut timber in habitat piles, rather than burning which releases the carbon content
  • increasing tree planting in order to offset carbon dioxide emissions
  • reducing the use of moss and lichens in the construction of wreaths and other floral tributes
  • re-using wreath frames and associated fittings (generally plastic), as an alternative to their destruction
  • sourcing alternatives to teak, mahogany and other hardwoods, used in the construction of garden seats, burial caskets, etc.
  • returning the metal content of hip and other bone repair implements (prostheses) to the NHS, for recycling following removal from cremated remains

Other issues have been identified which involve bereavement but are beyond the remit of the Charter, eg, the environmental damage caused by the production of cut flowers and quarrying of stone in foreign countries, which are then imported into the UK.

2. Charter rights

(a) You have a right to be made aware of all known environmental issues relating to bereavement services. Information will be available through this Charter and by direct contact with your local Charter member.

3. Charter targets

(a) Charter members should strive to improve environmental efficiency and understanding, relating to bereavement. Due consideration should be given to the conservation of wildlife and management according to sound ecological principles.

(b) Charter members should establish researched environmental impact data for all aspects of bereavement.

(c) Charter members should co-ordinate their efforts in order to improve the aspects outlined under "Further information" above.

(d) Charter members should create strategies for enhancing the wildlife value of cemeteries and crematoria grounds. This is particularly important in the creation of new cremation and burial facilities.

(e) Charter members should introduce services that directly enhance the environment, as an integral part of the bereavement experience. Woodland and wildflower graves are an example of such initiatives.

(f) Charter members should contribute to a reduction in global warming by reducing their total energy consumption.

Last updated on 19 January 2016