LETHBRIDGE -- The City of Lethbridge has become the first municipality in Alberta to offer a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly burial alternative, called Green Burial.

A Green Burial minimizes the impact on the environment by returning a body to the earth, where it can decompose naturally.

While it doesn’t look overly green right now, green burials will take place at the Grasslands Green Burial Grounds located in Royal View Memorial Cemetery on the north side of the city.

Cemetery Services Manager Hiroshi Okubo says a green burial has no embalming and no casket, and that for many the concept combines the spiritual integrity of the past with the environmental ideals of today.

“Green Burial is something we are very proud to be able to offer our residents,” Okubo continued. “Because we have a supportive partnership with our local funeral homes, we’ve been able to be a leader in the province in rolling out this type of program.”

According to the city, there are five principles to adhere to in order to provide a green burial, including:

1. No embalming - Human remains are prepared without the use of embalming fluid, allowing nature to take over.

2. Direct earth burial - The remains are wrapped in a natural and biodegradable cloth and placed directly in the ground. No grave liner or casket is needed.

3. Ecological restoration and conservation - Grasslands Green Burial Grounds has been specifically developed to use the natural landscape of the prairies.

4. Communal memorialization - The philosophy of the Green Burial is that the entire grasslands are a living memorial to the individuals buried there. Because of this, individual headstones are not allowed. Instead, a memorial will be placed in the green burial space where simple inscriptions can be made.

5. Optimize land use - Grasslands Green Burial Grounds has been designed and developed to optimize the space designated for green burial.

While it’s taken time, the idea behind a green burial site was actually identified back in the City of Lethbridge’s Cemetery Master Plan in 2011.

“It’s always been in our plans to do this but it’s just a matter of when. There’s been a lot of talk within Alberta about different cemeteries planning this, so we just happened to be one of the first,” Okubo said, adding he believes there’s going to be many more coming in the province.

There is also currently one privately owned green burial site in Edmonton.

The Grasslands Green Burial Grounds is located near the entrance to Pavan Park on 13th Street N, and when work is completed, it will include more than 1,400 burial plots.

Some representatives from local funeral homes were on hand Thursday, as media were led around the site, including Dale Martin, owner of Martin Brothers Funeral Services.

Martin says being able to offer this program is really about returning a body to the earth, where it can decompose naturally.

“Years and years ago, this is how families buried their dead. The carbon footprint of cremation is so high, it’s off the charts. I think if someone is looking for something very basic and very simple and certainly back to nature, I believe this is an option for them,” Martin stated.

The outstanding work at the site includes planting trees along the perimeter and building a temporary gravel road to access it, which should be completed by late spring.

Eventually, when the cemetery develops, roadways will be built towards it.