SA opens first eco-cemetery

The growing international trend of green or natural burials has come to South Africa with the opening of the country's first eco-friendly cemetery this week, on a conservation area in the Western Cape.

Willie Fouche, CEO of the eco-cemetery, Legacy Parks, says, “It's a more natural alternative to traditional cemeteries, burials or cremation and a safer, more tranquil place for family members to remember their loved ones.”

“People now have the option of leaving this world in an Earth-friendly way.”

Legacy Parks is at Wiesenhof outside Stellenbosch, which became South Africa’s first privately-owned nature reserve in 1968. It will still remain a nature reserve; only 10 hectares of the 300-hectare site will be used for burial and ash scattering.

“While traditional cemeteries have up to 80% of a site covered with graves, our difference is conservation,” Fouche says.

The land will be developed in phases, offering grave sites and memorialisation areas for the scattering of ashes with seeds to create fields of flowers or tree planting. Plant life and existing indigenous trees create a natural habitat for wildlife, including zebra and springbok.

Bodies will be returned to the earth in the least artificial way – caskets are made from biodegradable materials such as wicker, and burial sites will be marked only with flat engraved stone markers or a tree planted by relatives.

The site will be maintained by a full-time team, led by a horticulturalist.

On-site facilities include a coffee shop and a deck across a picturesque dam, where commemoration services can be held.

Green resting-place  at a price

It's not cheap to buy space at Legacy Parks for your final resting-place: an ash scattering at Wiesenhof costs R1 500, while a prime plot goes for R28 000. On the other hand, as the Legacy Parks managers argue, traditional burial isn't cheap either: a typical funeral including a fairly ostentatious coffin and headstone can easily set you back around R30 000.

There are plans to introduce further sites around the country, says Fouche, including at Howick and Port Elizabeth.

Funeral policies for Legacy Parks will be underwritten by Sanlam.

Adapted from a press release issued by Legacy Parks and Marcus Brewster

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, August 2011

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