Haycombe Cemetery was one of three sites in the Bath and North East Somerset area to gain a Green Flag award in 2008. Following this success, Haycombe went on to maintain this excellent standard in 2009. Sustainability and commitment to biodiversity is one of the criteria judged.

Environmental Issues

Bath and North East Somerset takes its responsibility for the environment very seriously and here at Haycombe we do our best to impact on the environment as little as possible and to promote awareness in the users of our services.. 

  • All cremations carried out by Bath and North East Somerset are fully mercury abated following installation of abatement equipment and two brand new cremators completed in February 2007.
  • Cremators are used in an environmentally sensitive manner i.e. only one cremator is used whenever possible to limit the use of gas. The majority of the gas used in the cremation process is used to heat the cremator from cold and the amount used during cremation reduces during the day as the cremators get hotter i.e. the final cremations carried out towards the end of a busy day use very little gas at all. So it is better from an environmental point of view to cremate  using one cremator continuously as far as is practicable. All applicants are informed  that coffins may be stored until the following day if it is environmentally helpful to do so. 
  • All metal residues are removed from the remains following a cremation. The remains are removed to a cooling tray where a magnet is is passed over and through them. They are then transferred to a cremulator, which reduces the remains further and also removes any remaining metals. These (including precious metals) are recycled via a 'not for profit' scheme administered by the Institute for Cemetery & Crematorium Management (ICCM).

If an applicant for cremation requires the remains early the following morning, or if remains are required the same day following a funeral at or before 10.30am, or if the legal right to watch a coffin charged is exercised, all these requests will be honoured. The identity of cremated remains will never be compromised in any way. Where applicants prefer to opt out of re-cycling, all metals will be will be returned to them as we have no other method of disposing of them.

 All cremated remains are placed in biodegradable plastic bags, inside biodegradable boxes for collection by families or Funeral Directors.

  • Tree prunings and fellings are chipped and used around the cemetery.
  • Only non-harmful herbicides are used for weed control.
  • Sustainable planting is replacing bedding plants in suitable areas.
  • Bedding plants where used are grown by the Council's nurseries in low peat based composts. 
  • Composting is encouraged wherever possible. 
  • All leaflets are printed on recycled paper or board, as is all paper used in the administration of the cemetery and crematorium.
  • Two of our closed churchyards/cemeteries are managed to encourage natural vegetation on limestone grassland i.e. the grass paths are mown fortnightly, but the main body of the cemetery and graves are mown only once a year in the autumn in accordance with best environmental practice and advice. It is hoped to encourage greater awareness of the benefits to the environment  of this type  of management in other locations throughout the area. Haycombe itself also has some areas designated for this maintenance regime and is hoping to apply for a Green Flag Award within the near future.

There is a 'downside' to wildlife into our cemeteries. Unfortunately deer are very partial to roses. They nip the flowers from the stems with the precision of a pair of scissors and because they browse they may take all the flowers from one grave leaving the one beside it untouched. This can leave the impression that your grave has been specifically targeted by vandals. (If roses are unavailable they will 'make do' with carnations.) Squirrels too cause their share of damage by digging up small bulbs and corms and leaving a grave looking as if a tank has driven over it. Most people find these problems manageable nuisances and some even like the feeling of their dead still being part of the cycle of life, but occasionally they do cause real distress. Office Staff will always advise on ways of dealing with these problems.

The service associated with bereavement has more impact on the environment than might be considered.

Think about asking your florist to provide a floral tribute using recyclable oasis and cardboard 'shapes' (both commercially available) - nationally crematoria/burial sites send 87kt to landfill from floral tributes alone. Using these which can both be composted along with the flowers would be  a major step in proving that we can make a difference quite simply.

Improvements in this area are very relevant to:

  • "Acting locally - thinking globally"

Environmental issues are also covered in the Charter for the Bereaved.

 

Cremation

Cremation has progressed from coke fired through to gas and electric cremators over a period of 100 years. Almost all cremators use gas. The use of gas, a finite reserve, and the creation of air pollution are criticisms of this process.

To keep this in perspective, the historical factors, which support cremation, need to be considered.

  • Cremation was introduced in response to the ever-increasing use of land for burial.
  • Using the land for producing food was important, particularly following the last war.
  • In addition, the clean and clinical impact of cremation was seen as "modern", despite archaeological discoveries of Bronze age cremation cemeteries.
  • War was the great equaliser. Classes suffered together and lay dead in unknown graves. So class distinction in the graveyard became  a thing of the past and cremation was an alternative giving equality to all.
  • The remains following cremation are totally bone ash (and usually weigh about 7lbs) suitable for 'strewing' or burial to disperse within the earth. Biochemical activity breaks down the ashes to form part of the earth and within a short time there is no trace of them.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 required that all cremators must comply with specified requirements by 1998. Consequently a massive cremator replacement programme took place which greatly increased the cost of cremation. The new cremators also require a threefold, or even higher, increase in gas consumption in order to meet the requirements of this Act. A further increase in the need to monitor or control emissions was called for in the Published Guidance on Crematoria - PG5/2(04) following central government's commitment to the OSPAR agreement. This will ensure that there are no emissions of mercury from crematoria by the year 2020. All cremations carried out at Haycombe Crematorium have been fully abated (i.e. mercury removed and recycled) since February 2007.

 

Burial

Burial is sometimes suggested as a more environmentally acceptable alternative to cremation as no air pollution is created. Such comments ignore the impact of herbicides and petrol mowers routinely used in cemeteries, often over long periods of time. In addition, the effects of interring chipboard and plastic coffins are unknown, nor have the effects of the methane given off by decomposition or release of drugs taken before death been fully explored. Finally, the pollutant effects of burial on water supplies is generally unresearched. The benefits of the new woodland burial schemes appear to overcome some of these problems particularly where they are associated with the use of biodegradable coffins and a reduction in embalming. However there are still the questions regarding methane, effects on water tables and land usage. Over time the difference between woodland and traditional burial becomes less obvious as trees and growth overtakes traditional cemeteries, not to mention the environmental benefits of the memorials themselves. Further research into these issues is urgently required.

The environmental and visual 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 old stone memorials are often the only available habitat for lichens and mosses. Changing mowing regimes, placing birds and bat boxes and replanting herbaceous borders with butterfly plant species are effective parts of this process. These improvements to the older sections can complement intensive high quality maintenance in current and more recently used burial sites.

The environmental benefits of turning old burial areas into wildlife reserves are twofold. Firstly a reduction in fossil fuel and herbicide usage. Secondly, the increasing bird and other wildlife population 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 tree, or a colourful bedding display are all therapeutic and symbolic of new life. The alternative is the cemetery blighted by weedkiller, without trees and a true harbinger of death.

 

Other issues

  • The use of environmentally friendly chemicals to clean memorial stones, as an alternative to caustic acids.  
  • Retaining cut timber in habitat piles.
  • 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 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.
  • The broader issues of environmental damage caused by the production of cut flowers and the quarrying of stone in foreign countries, which are then imported into the UK.
  • Embalming - is defined as the preservation of a body from decay, originally with spices and, more recently, through arterial injection of embalming fluid. Historically, the process is identified with the Egyptians and the mummification of bodies.  In fact this complicated and extreme method was abandoned, although in recent centuries ways of preserving bodies has received considerable attention.  Varying levels of success were achieved but probably due to expense, they were utilised by very few people. The current use of the word “embalming” is misleading.  The process is generally referred to as hygienic treatment.  It is used to improve the visual appearance of the body and to prevent deterioration in the period leading up to the funeral which would make the viewing of the deceased by relatives a less distressing event.  It has no long-term preservative value and cannot be compared with the Egyptian concept of preserving bodies.
    The decision as to the merits of embalming must lie with the individual although a number of issues should be considered. The embalming process involves removing the body fluids and replacing them with a solution of formaldehyde, often containing a pink dye.  The body fluids are treated and disposed of via the public sewer.  The embalming fluid normally consists of a 2% solution of formaldehyde, an irritant, volatile acid. Those who have concerns that embalming fluid may pollute the environment have a right to stipulate that this is not carried out on their body after death. Similarly, executors or nearest relatives making funeral arrangements can specify that embalming is not carried out on the deceased.
    In some burial schemes, such as woodland burial, all chemicals may be prohibited.  This restriction may apply to embalming fluid as well as to horticultural chemicals.
 

How to contact us

The cemetery and crematorium office is open 8.30am - 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, with the exception of 10.30am - 11.30am every Thursday morning when it is closed for staff meetings. We regret that it is not open at weekends or Bank holidays. 

An answering service operates outside of normal office hours. All messages, emails, and on-line submissions will be dealt with, at the latest, during office hours the next working day.

 

Residuary benefits

The national Recycling of Metals scheme to which Bath & North East Somerset subscribes produced a surplus of £15000 in its first year (2005/2006) despite the set up costs involved.

All members were invited to identify charities to which they would like the surplus to be donated. The only stipulation being that it was a 'death related' charity. Consequently the following monies were donated proportionate to the nominations received by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management:

CRUSE          £7500

BCET             £3000  

MacMillan  Nurses              £1500

Hospice Movement    £1500

SANDS          £1500

The most recent metal collection produced a surplus of £86000 (2009). Nominations from participating crematoria  are currently being  solicited.

It is particularly pleasing too that after all the metals are sorted, the higher grade non-ferrous metals are sold to two companies engaged in manufacturing orthopaedic implants, so that these metals are being used for their original purpose again.

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