Embalming and its alternatives
Embalming is not required under NZ law. It is your right to request to be embalmed or not.
Embalming and toxins
Embalming is an invasive process: draining the blood and replacing it with toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde. The Environmental Protection Authority guidelines for embalmers advise them that formaldehyde is highly toxic and known to cause cancer. They are advised to wear disposable gloves, a mask, a protective gown, and a waterproof apron as well as eye protection.
In Europe embalming is being phased out, and is already banned in Holland, due to the deleterious effects of the chemicals on the health of embalmers as well as pollution of the soils and groundwater.
Disposal of fluids
In Aotearoa, among Māori, there is also concern about the way embalmers dispose of bodily fluids in waste water. In Gisborne this has led to new regulations for funeral directors. The ‘mortuary waste’, made up of arterial blood and chemicals that arise through the embalming process, is now being stored on site and then collected and disposed of in the cemetery.
Alternatives to embalming
Alternatives to embalming can be used to slow down the process between a death and a funeral. This is important as it enables families to catch their breath and take their time to decide what is best for their loved one and their community. This also supports the normalising of death, placing it within the home and community or marae. However, this does not have to be through embalming. Embalming is not required by NZ law.
The use of Cold Plates or Moemai Pads, icepacks and eco-friendly products help keep a deceased in their best possible natural state for up to a week.
Maintaining integrity and mana
Funeral guides in our network do not embalm. They maintain the integrity and mana of the deceased, ensuring the loved one's body/tūpāpaku is completely intact and whole.
Nothing is removed and no toxic chemicals are used.
This also means the tūpāpaku does not need to be taken away by strangers, but remains with whānau from death to burial.
Moemai Pads (Cold Plates)
The refrigeration unit is placed at the foot of the bed. The cold plate is underneath the coffin. Even in a warm room, this will keep the body at 1-5 degrees celsius, the same temperature as in a morgue.
Trust Horizon funded five of these for our Collective to use They arrived from Holland on 1 September 2023.
Funeral Guides: Ngā Pou Herenga:
Funeral guide training. Claire Turnham of Only With Love demonstrates the use of a shroud.
Better Send Off by Gail McJorrow is a comprehensive free ebook that will empower you with all the information and knowledge you need to give your loved one an affordable and meaningful send-off. There is even a chapter on how to write an eulogy. It is free at this site.
Interested in becoming a funeral guide?
Contact us to see what support we can offer and guide training being planned.
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The roles of funeral guides
Anyone can organise a funeral and prepare their loved one's body themselves. The information on the resources page and through our links will enable you to do this. However, most people need guidance as it is some generations since this was common practice in our communities. We may also need support to ensure all the forms are filled and filed and the regulations followed.
Funeral Guides/Pou Herenga give whānau the courage and confidence to have a home funeral, to care for their own. Guides assist whanau in a practical way, to care for the body/tūpāpaku of their loved one, who is respectfully washed and gently laid out by those close to them. At all times the body/tūpāpaku remains with the whanau, and guides allow processes to take all the time they need.
Guides also let whānau know their options so they can make decisions aligned with their cultural beliefs, arrange hire of equipment needed and ensure compliance with legal and medical obligations.
The main principle of a natural burial is that the body is returned to the earth for the benefit of the environment. Natural burials are becoming an increasingly popular option for people and families concerned about the environment. Burial in a natural cemetery is the most environmentally friendly option available. We are the only species where the dead is not always returned to the ecosystem.
The plots are shallow to allow for speedy decomposition and embalming is not allowed. Natural containers such as a shroud or wooden or cardboard casket are used. Later, when the time is right for planting, family are invited back to plant a tree on the grave. The tree absorbs the nutrients released from the body and becomes a living memorial with a tree then planted on the plot. The body is returned to the earth quickly, and the resulting cemetery is a forest memorial.
To learn about natural burial in urupā on Maori land go to our tangihanga page.
To find out more about natural burial sites and guidelines go to the website: New Zealand Natural Burials.
Suzanne Williams and Raewyn Kingsley Smith, at the site of the natural burial cemetery in Whakatāne. They are two of the Eastern Bay Villages members who lobbied for this to be set aside.