For hundreds of years, burial has played a critical role in Australian society. It’s a ritual integral to the grieving process, as well as the opportunity to continually honour a loved one when life continues without them.
Burial can provide peace of mind when faced with death. Providing a final resting place, and a sense of forever tangible connection to the world we’ll all eventually leave behind. It’s also an integral part of many religions, and an important representation of someone’s faith in their end-of-life plans.
But beyond the emotional and cultural significance of burial, the industry has increasingly economic and environmental impacts. Burials provide jobs, contribute to the economy and take up increasingly scarce land resources. And as the Australian population continues to grow and urbanisation rises- there's no sign that demand for burials won’t continue to keep up pace.
The Burial Plot Shortage
The result? Burial plots are running out in Australia. Available burial space is expected to fill up within the next 30 years, and for NSW it’s 10. There's an existing strain on overflowing cemeteries, and whether it's 10 or 30 years, the current burial model is not set to house the dead forever. The fact that cemeteries will fill up is as inevitable as our need to adapt, and as this realisation starts to hit home, so too does innovation, and backlash, to the introduction of several solutions.
Solutions to the Burial Plot Shortage?
In this blog post, we’ll be exploring the new options set to (potentially quite literally) change the funeral landscape. These include:
Multi-layered burial plots
Read on to dive deeper into the deeper consequences of the current burial plot shortage, potential solutions and their associated barriers, as well as how changes within the burial industry can be implemented.
As mentioned above, land is running out for burial plots. And with populations and housing crises on the rise, remaining land is in high demand for the living, before it reaches the dead. Whilst the increasing burial shortage is focused on housing the dead, this search for more land has consequences for those of us currently living. Including:
Increasing burial prices: demand for burial plots currently exceeds supply, meaning prices are pushed up to an unaffordable rate to everyday Australian families.
Cremation alternatives: with direct cremations offering a cheaper alternative, the price rise in burials has created a modern day shift towards cremations.
New burial site proposals & impact: as cremation does not align with everyone's personal or religious beliefs, there remains persistent demand for burial plots, and consequent plans to build new cemeteries to accommodate. This creates a new myriad of issues- including the impact of communities where these new burial sites are built, and the use of indigenous land for this purpose.
The need for a more sustainable, culturally acceptable solution is clear. But with traditional burial practises marking such an ingrained part of society, initial backlash and sensitivity to change is high.
Shifts to cremations
Societal shifts towards cremations have created the need for more varied offerings from the burial industry. Cemeteries now need to house the diverse demand for funeral practises; including traditional burials, cremations and increasing demand for greener alternatives.
Other challenges for the burial industry include the need to meet demand for increased environmental sustainability – to match consumer preferences and regulatory compliance. This involves innovating new ways to reduce carbon footprint, whilst communicating with government, the community and respecting cultural values.
Renewable tenure is basically the re-use of burial plots. Under this system, burial plots are assigned to a specific person for a specified time, before the plot is reused for another burial. This contrasts to the current system, where burial plots are reserved for one person only.
Advantages of renewable tenure:
This system can help available land go further in providing a resting place for the dead. This will rebalance supply and demand of burial plots- reducing costs for families, as well as the burial industry. In this way, renewable tenure reduces the strain on burial plot supply, relieves pressure on the need to continually expand cemetery space and provides a more sustainable solution.
Similarly, renewable tenure can be adapted around family preferences- allowing families to keep the same burial plot for future generations. This can meet the needs of the community and individuals, whilst simultaneously keeping burial plots personal.
Challenges to renewable tenure:
Recycling burial plots can create anxiety over a lack of respect in reusing burial plots- which may violate some peoples wish to have a final, permanent resting place. This solution requires sensitivity to this anxiety, as well as different cultures.
Burial practices are deeply ingrained into Australian society, and change can be met with sensitivity and concern. Proper communication on these changes is essential to cultural acceptance of this change.
Above-ground burials, such as mausoleums, are constructed above the ground and can hold multiple burial vaults within a single structure. These can also be multi-levelled, and increase capacity of existing burial grounds without the need for more land.
Advantages of above-ground burials
Made with durable materials, above-ground burials require less maintenance than traditional grave sites- offering another way to reduce the cost of burial plots for families and the industry. This offers a secure way to lay a family member to rest, whilst allowing for personalisation and tribute to their memory. Importantly, it also offers a more sustainable option for the burial industry.
Challenges to above-ground burials:
Costs of constructing mausoleums can be high, and there are further requirements for circulation to prevent the harmful build-up of gases. Whilst marking an investment in more sustainable, future burial practices- these complexities have a high upfront cost which could create initial reluctance to shift. Additionally, some families may prefer a traditional burial and headstone- finding this more meaningful and respectful.
To address increasing concerns about the impact of traditional burials on the environment, green burials provide an effective burial solution which lessens the harmful burial impact on the environment. They use biodegradable coffins, natural settings and avoid the use of harmful embalming chemicals.
Green burials appeal to those looking to honour their loved ones ‘green wishes’. With the health of the planet a real concern for modern generations, offering a sustainable burial practice is of utmost importance. For this appeal, green burials also receive less backlash and can use the pull of sustainability to increase appeal. Many even find comfort in the idea of a green burial returning a body to nature.
As a fresh practice, there is a lack of standardisation in green burials. This can create barriers to entry, when consumers have to undergo substantial research to navigate eco-friendly choices.
Practises on renewable tenure of burials vary across Australia. In Victoria, you buy a burial plot with no end date. Whilst in WA, all burial plots are automatically renewable tenure, and have been since 1883. There's processes in place to ensure this is handled with care, but for Australians in this state it’s a cultural norm. It's also a large factor behind the stark differences in the burial crisis between NSW relative to WA cities.
Current regulation in states like Victoria create blockages to more sustainable burial practices, like renewable tenure. This feeds into societal resistance to the idea of a burial site being anything other than a permanent, fixed place of rest for the dead.
In this sense, the Government plays an important role in creating more sustainable burial solutions- starting with the legal framework, and feeding into changing societal attitudes.
Education and awareness are key components of successful implementation for any major change in such a sensitive, emotional pillar of society. And, as the crisis begins to loom, it’s important to start implementing change now to create necessary time for adjustment.
Cremation may offer a more affordable burial option to align your budget with your sustainability beliefs in end of life planning. If not however, the need to plan ahead for burial and funerals is more pressing than ever.
Buying a plot well in advance is an important step to take, when safeguarding any wish of traditional burial. Or, if cremation is an alternative option for you- ensure that you don't compromise on a meaningful, personal service around it.
How Safewill can help
Safewill offers an affordable, flexible and expert service for prepaid cremations- helping you lock in prices today, safeguard your end of life wishes and save your family from the future stress of piecing it all together at their time of grief. It’s easy, it’s affordable and it works around you.
Get in touch for a chat with one of our compassionate team experts today on 1300 730 639 - available to support you at your time of need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.