Frequently Asked Questions

Punakaiki rocks
These are some frequently asked questions about environmental funerals.
Please click on the links for more information:

Why is it important to consider the environment in my funeral decisions?
What does a Living Legacies funeral cost?
Do you supply cardboard coffins?
Aren’t cardboard coffins illegal?
Won’t people think we’re cheap?
Am I allowed to arrange a funeral without a funeral director?
How can I find out what I need to know?
When should I start planning my funeral?
Do I have to be embalmed?
How soon after death must an unembalmed body be disposed of?
Where are the Natural Burial Parks in New Zealand?
How can I help?

Q: Why is it important to consider the environment in my funeral decisions?
It is important to consider the environment in all aspects of life. Amongst other things it is our legacy to future generations. By many selfish, greedy and short-sighted means humans have degraded their environment to such a degree that it is now in serious jeopardy and we must consider sustainability in everything we do. Living Legacies is a call to responsible people to live our lives as if everything matters. This includes the state of our forests, the cleanliness of the air that we breathe, sustainable land use, the ways in which we approach death and celebrate life, and the love and respect we have for each other and the planet on which we live and die.
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Q: What does a Living Legacies funeral cost?
Variable according to personal wishes. 2013 prices are listed here.Return to top….

Q: Do you supply cardboard coffins?
A: Living Legacies has stocked cardboard coffins in the past but currently the only ones available are imported from China and are not sustainable. See the Coffins page for the range of biodegradable and locally produced, sustainable coffins. If you plan to buy a cardboard coffin from a funeral director please find out where it was made. Unfortunately some coffin suppliers are advertising “Eco-coffins” with no justification, and often it means ‘economical’ (i.e. MDF) rather than ‘ecological’!
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Q: Aren’t biodegradable coffins illegal?
A: Biodegradable coffins have never been illegal in New Zealand. The myth that they are was probably invented by someone who wanted to protect their income from coffins made from solid hardwood timbers, or toxic and pollutive MDF/veneer.  However, some conservative local councils without sustainable management policies have unnecessarily restrictive regulations on this matter. Find out from yours what their policy is, and whether they offer a discount to people using them, as some authorities are starting to do, because they break down in soil faster, are cheaper to cremate, and don’t pollute the air we breathe. If they don’t, ask why not? Lobby your local council for changes if their policies are not unsustainable.

Q: Won’t people think we’re cheap?
A: Some people in our materialistic society equate money with love, and feel a need to prove their love by spending lots of money, especially at funerals. Sometimes they believe this will help to assuage any guilt they may feel towards the person who has died. However, money is not love. Those who care about our world demonstrate more love by showing that they prioritise the health of the environment in which we all live, and which the next generation will inherit, than by paying thousands of dollars to boost the bank accounts of funeral companies. When this is understood funeral participants are more likely to say, “They really cared about the important things in life” than “What cheapskates!” Talk with your family and friends  – in advance – and they will understand and respect your values.
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Q: Am I allowed to arrange a funeral without a funeral director?
A: Anyone can arrange a funeral, and the legal disposal of a dead body, with or without a funeral director. You also don’t need a priest or minister or celebrant unless you choose to. Provided you know what you legally have to do – and not do – you can do it all within the family. Be sure you know what your legal obligations are before you need to know, because it can be difficult to find out at the time.
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Q: How can I find out what I need to know?
A: Read “Living Legacies – a family funeral handbook for an evergreen world” by Lynda Hannah. To order, send a cheque for $35, including p&p, to: P.O. Box 140, Motueka 7143. (Or check out the Handbook page.) Also, check with your local council what their resources, policies and bylaws are.
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Q: When should I start planning my funeral?
A: When you are alive! Don’t wait until you are diagnosed with a serious illness or survive a near-death experience; that may never happen. Even if you live to be 101 you will lose most, if not all, of your loved ones before you die; you will need to know what to do for them. None of us knows when our time will be up. Prepare for that inevitability while you are young enough and fit enough to make responsible decisions and act on them. Unfortunately it’s not just the very elderly who die; it can and does happen to anyone at any time, so today is the moment to discuss your funeral wishes with your close friends and family. After all, you will be responsible for acting on their decisions too. Be informed beforehand and you will find the journey easier. As with everything important – start now!
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Q: Do I have to be embalmed?
A: A body has to be embalmed only in the presence of infectious disease. It also has to be disposed of before it becomes a public health hazard. If someone dies in a country other than the one in which they are to be buried or cremated, most airlines will insist the body be embalmed before it is flown home. In most circumstances of death a body does not have to be embalmed.
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Q: How soon after death must an unembalmed body be disposed of?
A: Every circumstance is different. It depends on many factors such as the time of year, the climate, the tolerance of family and friends to smell, the temperature of the room in which the body is kept, and the condition of the body at the time of death (for instance, the body of an elderly person who has been deteriorating from cancer over a period of months or years may decompose much faster than a young person who dies in an accident). There are natural ways to keep an unembalmed body cool to help slow the decomposition process and prolong the period before the funeral. Read “Living Legacies – a family funeral handbook for an evergreen world” ” by Lynda Hannah for details. To order, send a cheque for $35, including p&p, to: P.O. Box 140, Motueka. (Or check out the Handbook page.)
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Q: Are there any natural burial parks in New Zealand?
Yes! After many years of lobbying there is now one in Motueka, one in Wellington and at least two more due to open in Nelson and Takaka in 2011/2012. Others are following nationwide. We are in the process of establishing more with the co-operation of open-minded local authorities around the country. If you want one in your area you need to lobby your local council, repeatedly!
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Q: How can I help?
A: There is much you can do to help.

  • Contact your local council and find out what their long-term sustainable management plan is for the disposition of dead bodies.
  • Find out if they accept cardboard coffins at their cemeteries and crematoria, and if not, why not?
  • Ask your local authority where you can be buried and have a tree planted on your grave instead of a headstone. They may know of small, Trust-owned cemeteries that may allow this.
  • Make a submission to your council’s Annual Plan asking for Natural Burial Parks to be established, and support for Resource Consent Applications for individuals wanting to set up Natural Burial Parks on privately owned land.
  • If you are a lawyer, or have a friend who is a lawyer, find out about the legal aspects of burial. Please put them in touch with me:
  • Talk with your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances about your funeral wishes. Be clear and specific. Raise a debate about the existing funeral industry and other, more sustainable alternatives. Challenge them to broaden their minds on the matter.
  • Lobby the Ministry of Health for a law change to allow the establishment of Natural Burial Parks nationwide.
  • Write to your MP asking for a natural burial park to be established within her/his electorate.
  • Write letters to the editors of local and national newspapers challenging people to demand this burial option, and opening up debate on the sustainability of existing methods of disposal of the dead.
  • Email me: to let me know what you have learned or achieved so that we can co-ordinate our results and work co-operatively together.

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