Are cemeteries sustainable now and in the future?

Are cemeteries sustainable now and in the future?
Posted on: July 28th, 2023

The concept of a cemetery, a designated area where the dead are laid to rest, is one that transcends cultures and time. As solemn and somber as they may seem, cemeteries hold a certain fascination for many, serving as the final resting place of our ancestors and offering a glimpse into our past. But have you ever stopped to wonder why cemeteries exist in the first place? The origins of cemeteries can be traced back to ancient times, with their purpose and design evolving alongside human civilization.

In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind the creation of cemeteries, exploring how burial customs and rituals have shaped these sacred spaces throughout history. From the earliest burial mounds to the modern-day landscaped parks, we will uncover the rich tapestry of stories and customs that have given rise to cemeteries as we know them today.

Why do we have cemeteries?

Cemeteries have been established primarily due to human beliefs, customs, and rituals related to death and the treatment of the deceased. Throughout history, honoring and remembering the dead has been important to people, and cemeteries have become both a practical and symbolic way to achieve this. Some key reasons for the existence of cemeteries include:

Showing respect for the deceased: Cemeteries offer a dedicated space for proper burials or internments, which is essential for demonstrating respect and adhering to religious or cultural obligations towards the dead.

Facilitating grieving and remembrance: Cemeteries serve as central locations for mourning and remembering the deceased, giving loved ones a place to visit, reflect, and pay their respects. This helps with the grieving process and preserves memories of those who have passed away.

Accommodating spiritual beliefs: Cemeteries play a role in various cultures and religions that have specific beliefs about the afterlife, serving as a connection between the living and the dead. Providing a proper burial is often considered a vital step in ensuring a smooth journey to the afterlife or facilitating reincarnation.

Promoting health and sanitation: Historically, cemeteries were created to separate the dead from the living for health and sanitation purposes. As urbanization increased, designating specific areas for the dead became crucial to prevent the spread of diseases and maintain cleanliness in populated regions.

Supporting organization and land management: As populations expanded, it became necessary to allocate particular areas for the internment of the dead. Cemeteries offer an organized, centralized location for burials, which allows for efficient land use and management.

Preserving cultural and historical records: Cemeteries act as repositories for cultural and historical information, with tombstones, monuments, and burial customs providing insights into the lives, values, and beliefs of people from different time periods and cultures.

Cemeteries cater to human needs, beliefs, and customs related to death by offering a space for honoring the deceased, grieving, and preserving memories. They also address practical concerns such as health, sanitation, and land management. They can also be very spooky at night.

Cemeteries throughout history

Throughout history, various civilizations have developed their own unique burial customs and rituals, leading to the creation of different types of cemeteries. All cemeteries today are an evolution of past traditions.

Ancient Egyptian necropolises

The ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, and they built elaborate tombs and burial complexes to ensure a successful transition to the next realm. The famous pyramids of Giza, for example, were built as tombs for pharaohs, while the nearby necropolis contained the tombs of lesser nobility and officials. These vast cemeteries were designed to protect and honor the deceased, as well as to ensure their continued well-being in the afterlife.

Roman catacombs

In ancient Rome, the dead were often buried outside city walls in designated burial grounds or catacombs. These underground networks of tunnels and chambers served as burial places for early Christians, who were not allowed to bury their dead within the city limits. The catacombs provided a hidden, secure space for the internment of the deceased, as well as a place for worship and the commemoration of martyrs.

Jewish cemeteries

Jewish burial customs have their roots in biblical traditions. According to Jewish law, the dead must be buried in a separate area from the living to maintain ritual purity. This led to the establishment of Jewish cemeteries outside city walls, with specific customs and rituals associated with the burial process, such as the placement of stones on the grave as a sign of respect.

Medieval churchyards

During the Middle Ages, Christian cemeteries were often located adjacent to churches, as it was believed that the sanctity of the church ground would protect the dead and help ensure their passage to heaven. The practice of burying the dead in churchyards also had a social function, reinforcing the sense of community and shared religious identity.

Victorian garden cemeteries

In the 19th century, overcrowded and unsanitary urban churchyards led to the development of the ”garden cemetery” movement. These landscaped cemeteries, such as London’s Highgate Cemetery or Paris’s Père Lachaise, were designed as peaceful, park-like spaces for the burial of the dead and for visitors to reflect and remember. They also became a response to urbanization, offering a green oasis within rapidly growing cities.

Should we eliminate cemeteries?

There are several arguments for eliminating cemeteries. One being limited land resources. As urbanization and population growth continue, land becomes an increasingly scarce and valuable resource. Traditional cemeteries occupy large expanses of land that could be used for other purposes, such as housing or public parks. Moreover, in densely populated areas, finding space for new cemeteries can be challenging, leading to concerns about the long-term sustainability of the traditional burial model.

Burials are expensive

Another argument centers around the high costs associated with traditional burials. The expenses for burial plots, headstones, and maintenance can place a significant financial burden on families. Additionally, maintaining cemeteries requires ongoing resources, such as labor for landscaping and repairs, which can be expensive for municipalities or private organizations. The costs of traditional burials have led some to question whether alternative methods, such as cremation or green burials, might be more cost-effective and sustainable in the long run.

Changing societal values and beliefs also contribute to the argument for eliminating cemeteries. As traditional religious practices decline in some areas, fewer people may feel a strong attachment to the idea of a physical burial site. Furthermore, there is a growing awareness of environmental issues, and many people are becoming more eco-conscious in their choices. This has led to increased interest in alternative burial methods, such as green burials, that have a lower environmental impact.

Most arguments for eliminating cemeteries stem from concerns about land scarcity, high costs, and changing societal values. These factors have led many to reconsider the role of cemeteries in modern society and explore alternative options that better align with contemporary needs and priorities.


If we were to do away with graveyards where would we store our loved ones after their passing?

Several alternate solutions to traditional cemeteries have emerged in response to the growing concerns about land use, costs, and environmental impact. These alternatives often focus on reducing the physical footprint and environmental impact of internment or finding innovative ways to commemorate the deceased.


Cremation is a popular alternative to traditional burial, as it significantly reduces the amount of space required for interment. Ashes can be stored in smaller urns, scattered in meaningful locations, or even incorporated into memorial objects like jewelry. This option is also generally more cost-effective than traditional burials.

Digital memorials

Many people want a special place to remember and honor their loved ones who have passed away. Digital memorials and virtual cemeteries are now a modern way to do this without using physical land. Families and friends can make online memorials to share stories, pictures, and messages about the person who has died. This way, people can think about and grieve for their loved one without needing a traditional burial site.

Green burials

Green burials have gained traction as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional cemetery practices. These burials involve using biodegradable materials, such as coffins made from natural fibers or simple shrouds, which decompose over time and return the body to the earth. Green burial sites are often designed to resemble natural habitats, emphasizing conservation and environmental stewardship.

Columbarium’s and mausoleums

Columbarium’s and mausoleums offer a space-saving solution for interment, as they can house multiple remains in a single structure. These buildings can be designed with architectural innovation in mind, creating aesthetically pleasing and efficient spaces for commemorating the deceased. This would be a great alternative in heavy populated areas.

These are all viable solutions that we use today and have used in the past for many centuries. Traditions can be hard to break though and that’s where we need to come together and talk about ways we can address the situation for future generations.

Balancing tradition with innovation

Balancing tradition with innovation when it comes to burial practices and memorials can be achieved by understanding and respecting the cultural significance of traditional customs while being open to new ideas and solutions. Here are some ways to strike this balance:

  • Education and awareness: Encourage open discussions about traditional and innovative burial practices to help people understand the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. By educating communities about the environmental, financial, and social aspects of various options, individuals can make informed decisions that align with their values and beliefs.
  • Offer diverse options: Ensure that funeral homes, cemeteries, and other related services provide a variety of choices for families, including traditional burials, cremation, green burials, and digital memorials. Offering a range of options allows people to select a method that honors their cultural background while embracing new possibilities.
  • Preserve historic cemeteries: Recognize the cultural and historical importance of existing cemeteries by preserving and maintaining them as heritage sites. These sites can serve as reminders of our past, allowing future generations to appreciate the traditions and customs that have shaped our society.
  • Collaborate with religious and cultural leaders: Engage with leaders from various religious and cultural communities to understand their perspectives on burial customs and explore potential areas for innovation. By working together, it is possible to develop solutions that respect traditional practices while addressing contemporary concerns.
  • Incorporate sustainable practices into traditional burials: Explore ways to minimize the environmental impact of traditional burials by adopting sustainable practices, such as using eco-friendly materials for coffins or reducing the use of harmful chemicals in embalming processes.
  • Foster community involvement: Encourage communities to participate in the decision-making process when it comes to burial practices and the development of new memorial spaces. This can help ensure that innovative solutions are culturally sensitive and widely accepted.

By taking these steps, we can balance tradition with innovation, creating a future that respects and honors the customs of the past while embracing new, sustainable, and inclusive approaches to remembering and commemorating the deceased.

<< PreviousNext >>

Related Posts