What Happens When Burial Plots Run Out?

Many Australian councils have already run out of cemeterial space. So, what happens when there are no more burial plots to buy? *Talk about a plot twist.*
What Happens When Burial Plots Run Out?

More than 70% of Australians prefer cremation, but many still choose burial for personal or religious reasons. The issue arises as Australia faces a common problem: running out of burial plots.

Recently, discussions about alternative solutions, such as reusing burial plots, have gained attention. Some individuals can choose between burial and cremation, but others, due to religious beliefs and personal preferences, may not have that option. While advocating for more cremations seems logical for those who can choose, ultimately, it's your life, your money, and your final resting place. Shouldn’t the decision be yours to make in the end? (See the problem?)

Read on as we explore the concept of reusing burial plots and other possible solutions to deal with this modern challenge.

But first – a history lesson:

The history of reusing burial plots

In ancient times, particularly during the early centuries of the Common Era (AD), people in northern Europe practised the reuse of burial mounds (we’re talking from the Bronze Age and Neolithic periods). An example from the 18th century is the creation of catacombs beneath Paris, which served as a solution to the extreme overcrowding in cemeteries. (The situation was so dire that bodies had to be stacked on top of each other.)

As you can see, reusing burial plots isn’t a new concept; it has occurred throughout history. Driven by the increase in population and overcrowding in urban areas, this tradition of reusing the same burial sites spans various cultures worldwide for thousands of years.

What is causing the lack of burial plot space in Australia?

In a June 2023 SBS News article, Architect David Neustein pointed out that historically, Australian cemeteries lacked proper forward thinking. He highlighted Sydney’s initial cemetery, now where the Town Hall stands, and mentioned that the subsequent one had to be relocated for Central Station. (Similarly, Melbourne's earliest cemetery is beneath the Queen Victoria Markets.) Neustein emphasised that the cemeteries were not adequately sized and were hastily constructed, leading to urgent searches for new space. He suggested that instead of short-term thinking, planning should have considered the next couple of hundred years.

What does it mean to reuse a burial plot? How does this work?

Reusing a burial plot, or ‘renewable tenure’ involves the recycling of burial plots. In this arrangement, a specific individual is granted the use of a burial plot for a defined period, after which the plot becomes available for another burial. This differs from the existing system, where burial plots are exclusively reserved for a single person.

Other alternatives to burial plots and cremations

Over the years, various modern solutions have popped up to help solve this big problem. Some examples include the following:

Above-ground burials

Above-ground burials, exemplified by mausoleums, are (quite literally) built above ground. They can accommodate multiple burial vaults within a single structure. These structures can also be designed with multiple levels, effectively increasing the capacity of existing burial grounds without the need for additional land. Significantly, above-ground burials represent a more sustainable option for the burial industry.

Green funerals

Green funerals aim to reduce their environmental impact by incorporating eco-friendly elements. These may include cardboard coffins, caskets or shrouds, minimal or no embalming chemicals and natural headstones such as rocks, flowers or a tree. Compared to their traditional counterparts, green coffins are designed to decompose much faster and with minimal impact on the local environment.

Tree burials

A tree burial pod is a small eco-friendly container that holds the ashes of a loved one. It is buried in the ground beneath a new tree sapling, using the ashes to help the sapling grow into a mature tree over time. Burial pods are mostly not allowed in Australia, and there are only a few places where they are permitted.

In certain states, burials without a coffin are restricted. While some places allow biodegradable urns after cremation, planting trees with them is often not allowed. Some local governments may allow burial pods on private property, but only with approval. It's a complicated option with various challenges depending on your location, but we are intrigued to see how things unfold in this sphere, as it sounds fascinating!

Wrap up

Building more cemeteries might seem an obvious solution to the problem, however, state and cemetery regulations and our general reluctance to think about death all contribute to complications in this space. However, for those curious about alternative resting place options beyond traditional burial and cremation, numerous choices exist, with some gaining prominence globally (stay tuned for more).

Now that you’ve uncovered what happens when burial plots run out, you may be interested in the following guides:

If you are looking to plan a funeral, we’re the people for the job. Call 1300 945 533 (yep, that’s 1300 WILLED) to speak with a dedicated funeral arranger today.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, accounting or tax advice.

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