From Ashes to Trees: An interview with

By Greenpop

Historically, we have honoured those we love by burying their remains to return to nature when they pass. However, changes to this process over the centuries have created a system of which is no longer sustainable. To discuss this issue and one possible solution, we sat down with Chris Cilliers from

Q: What are the challenges with traditional burial methods?

A: The main challenge is that traditional burial uses up vast amounts of space. Presently there is a global issue as we are running out of burial space. In South Africa, it is projected that we would run out of burial space within the next 5 years.

This forces the private sector to purchase land to create cemeteries, which restarts the cycle. Ultimately traditional burial is simply not sustainable, beyond the massive scale of land it requires to bury people, traditional burial also has an adverse environmental impact, this ranges from disease from exposure etc to deposits of harmful chemicals and materials into our soil.

As the problem in South Africa becomes direr, we have seen the action of governmental parties try and solve these issues by suggesting alternatives, none of which have really seen any uptake.

Cremation has seen a slight increase in choice, although cremation also has an environmental impact, the impact is much less than that of traditional burial, especially when we consider carbon positive solutions like our product to have a carbon offset on the effects of cremation.

“Ultimately traditional burial is simply not sustainable…”
Biotree Urn

Q: Your product offers a real alternative; can you explain what sets urns apart?

A: The Biotree Urn is a South African first, it addresses a critical issue with a logical solution that at its core celebrates life and gives families a modern, environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to utilize after the loss of a loved one.

As a business, we stand at the forefront to change dated practices and return dignity to the passing of a loved one, in a way that reduces overall impact and creates a symbiosis with our environment.

We do this in two ways, one through a product range that is design conscious of its impact and secondly by ensuring that as a company we are always focusing on the good we can do with other organizations and companies in South Africa.

Q: How do you address environmental challenges?

A: The Biotree Urn is made using only environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials, this means that our product will not have any adverse impacts on its environment, furthermore it has a carbon offset because of the tree it becomes, this impact extends itself further through the organizations we partner with the amplify the impact our products have on the environment and society within South Africa.

Q: What inspired you to come up with this unconventional method?

A: The beginning of Biotree came from two places, the one being the observation of the issues we face with burial space and the issues we face within the funeral industry, the second is my passion and love for the environment and nature and combining these elements and understandings into a physical product that serves a logical and sustainable purpose.

Q: How do you raise awareness about an environmental issue which is not talked about as frequently as other less distressing nature related challenges?

A: I strongly believe that burial is as much a distressing challenge as deforestation, we are talking millennia of environmental impact that is unavoidable and that has been culturally routed as the norm. To face these issues we talk and educate as much as possible, it takes a lot of energy to change a society’s outlook on something seen as macabre.

We are very respectful of everyone we deal with, we understand that there are religious constraints, cultural constraints and belief systems that would not use a product like the Biotree Urn and this means that we do not intend to change or alter those beliefs. We do need to address a subject that is relevant to all cultures and denominations within South Africa, a subject that we simply can not avoid.

The most effective means to do this is to simply speak to everyone we have the opportunity to speak to, to try and create a better understanding of where we are as a country and where the fault lines of our behavior lies.

“making more conscious decisions, prior to our passing, around the impact we will have…”

Q: Now naturally, since we want to enjoy life, mortality isn’t on our minds on an everyday basis for a good reason.  But when is the right time for us to start thinking about how we would want to depart?

A: Today. We, as a society, do not want to think about death and many do not want to talk about it either, however, it is a guarantee, an unavoidable outcome that can create a very positive impact if we take the time to consider our decisions ahead of death.

Fear of loss is a big factor in the reason we avoid speaking about death, the stigma around the conversation, therefore, means that we naturally shy away from it. I believe that we can all benefit from removing that stigma by speaking about death.

There are many cultures around the world that embrace death into their lives as it brings comfort, peace and understanding about loss, especially when experiencing loss.

If we as a society adopt a similar value system to that of our company to celebrate life, it will lead to us making more conscious decisions, prior to our passing, around the impact we will have to the environment and on the lives we touch during our life.


Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.