A new land-saving eco-friendly burial system that can put urns underground is being trialed at a cemetery in Jinshan District and if successful will be expanded as Shanghai's cemeteries run out of land, the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Association said yesterday.
Fuyouyuan, an 800-plus square meter interment site at Songyin Cemetery, can host 9,600 urns through the new approach. Each urn takes only about 0.028 square meter in the trial system, compared with the traditional space of up to 1 square meter.
Cemetery manager Liu Jianrong said the system addresses the traditional belief that loved ones must be buried.
"For Chinese, it is a deeply rooted brief that earth burial renders the souls of the deceased immortal," He said. "This belief has hindered people from trying such eco-burials as burials at sea, placing ashes in columbaria and using urns made of biodegradable material."
Like many other cemeteries, Songyin Cemetery is running out of space and the standard system means it would be full in about 20 years. The new burial option is expected to substantially prolong its operation, Liu said.
There are 48 columbaria available, each containing 200 metal boxes for ashes. The columbaria are made of aluminium alloy and stainless steel, and will not corrode for at least 50 years.
Machines lift and bury the columbaria and the names of the deceased contained inside are carved in stone tablets on the ground above for families to honor their loved ones.
In total, 9,600 urns can be buried through this way in Songyin — equivalent to the total number of urns buried in the cemetery in the past 10 years.
The new system is also much cheaper — about 12,800 yuan (US,855) per urn, compared with the average 100,000 yuan for traditional interment.
Most of those who have booked the new method are families with little money to spare, seniors with no children or those open to new concepts, Liu said.
It is likely to spread because the trial has so far received a good public response. About 100 families have already made bookings in a short time, the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Association said.
The first batch was buried yesterday and family members welcomed the new option.
"My mother had an open mind when she lived, and the size of the interment space does not matter too much for our family," said a resident surnamed Chen, whose 89-year-old mother was buried yesterday. "The new burial saves land and is not expensive."
Last year, 129,000 people died in the city and the figure is rising every year, according to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau. But many cemeteries are seriously short of land and are forced to limit space each year.
Zhuanqiaoqinyuan, a cemetery in Minhang District, has one of the smallest areas left — less than 10 mu (0.67 hectares).
The good news is residents' acceptance of eco-burials has risen about 10 percent over the past few years.