A Novel Idea For Oilsands Reclamation

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Student researchers from the University of Alberta suggest Canadian industries, such as oilsands companies, consider preserving the country’s usable land base by helping rejuvenate used land as “environmentally friendly cemeteries.”

The students, working on a class project in the U of A’s department of renewable resources, researched the viability of creating “peaceful green spaces” by setting up a “natural” cemetery at the site of a theoretical northern Alberta pulp mill.

“Instead of a more common reclamation option like a campground, we wanted to establish a green space that could also help the environment, and what we call a ‘depersonalized garden of remembrance’ would do that,” said Kirby Nelson, one of the seven fourth-year students who developed the proposal.

“Although their idea is for a hypothetical site, it could easily be applied in real life after any large-scale land disturbance, including the oilsands,” said Anne Naeth, a U of A professor of land reclamation and supervisor of the students’ project.

“Creative use of land is becoming more important as the population expands and the usable land base decreases. A project like this one combines the need for natural spaces with suitable burial grounds, and responds to an emerging human desire to be closer to nature.”

Such cemeteries already exist in Europe and in designated areas of some U. S. graveyards, the U of A noted in a recent newsletter. One such site has been proposed in B. C., and the students found “no legislation that prohibits this type of proposal in Canada.”

In a “natural” cemetery, unembalmed bodies are buried in biodegradable cases or natural-fibre clothing and covered with a compost-soil mixture. The hand-dug, unmarked graves are reseeded with native vegetation.

“The burial plots, marked only with stones or flowers, are reusable every few years for up to 50 years. The garden of remembrance would feature walking paths, an open air arena and an auditorium that could be used for weddings and other community events,” the U of A report said.

“Right now, when we think of visiting a cemetery, it’s not to enjoy it as a green space, but to grieve,” Nelson said. “Our proposal creates a space that serves as both a cemetery and a park to celebrate the environment and to celebrate life.”

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