Eco concerns prompt greener funeral arrangements

Apr 5, 2024 | News

Renting a flatpack casket to reduce your funeral’s carbon footprint is becoming more popular as people look for climate-friendly solutions.

Your carbon footprint is not over when you die. Your choice of funeral could have a significant impact on the environment. In a report published by the National Funeral Directors Association in the US, 60.5% expressed interest in greener alternatives such as resomation (water crematorium), human composting and burials.

And while the UK’s funeral preferences are currently split 80:20 between cremations and burials, YouGov research finds that almost a third (29%) of people in the UK would choose alternative committal methods if available.

Sophia Campbell Shaw, founder of Woven Farewell Coffins, is one of 10 willow coffin manufacturers in the UK. She is keen to bring more environmentally friendly options into the mainstream. She tells Positive News that the funeral industry is one of most polluting industries. “One cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip and releases a staggering 400 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

The traditional burials are not much better. In the US, alone, 800,000. gallons of formaldehyde are buried each year as embalming fluids. She points out that many coffins are made of metal, plastics, and caustic adhesive.

Campbell Shaw will be enhancing her company’s green credentials by offering families to rent caskets instead of buying them. She explains that renting is common in some cultures including the US. She says that a person’s memorial is kept in a rented casket, and then the body is transferred into a cardboard box.

Campbell Shaw uses only biodegradable materials to reduce her coffins’ carbon footprint. She offers a rental willow coffin, which is made with materials that biodegrade. This coffin is also made from biodegradable material, but it comes in a flatpack that can be assembled and disassembled by funeral directors, then reassembled.

The best is the willow because it can be grown in areas prone to flooding. It is coppiced two times a year, and after harvesting it grows back.

“Willow grows back after being harvested, even on land that is prone to flooding. It can be coppiced two times a year. “It provides more energy to produce it than what is used in its processing and production, meaning that the net carbon footprint of its production is negative.”

Campbell Shaw acknowledges that there are cultural and emotional obstacles to overcome in the UK. Funeral directors may be hesitant to rent coffins because they believe their customers will not find it respectful, even though the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities supports the idea.

William Wainman, president of the Association of Green Funeral Directors describes renting a casket, however, as “a very pragmatic idea”. We enter this world with absolutely nothing and leave with nothing. Why should we own the packaging materials used to transport us away ?”

Campbell Shaw in a field of willows before harvesting

Campbell Shaw has also taken into consideration the storage of a rental casket. Her rental coffin is a flatpack design that was inspired by a client who wanted to store a coffin in his family for generations.

It is made of willow panels, so it’s easy to assemble and disassemble. The base is thick ply and the handles are sturdy hemp rope. Inside is a cardboard coffin. The foot of the coffin can be removed, allowing for the body to easily be transferred to the cremation or burial bed after the memorial.

“After use, the casket will be sanitised by the funeral director and stored or returned to us to be used again up to 15 more times. The casket is disassembled at the end of the rental period and the materials are recycled responsibly.

Campbell Shaw’s rental casket is a flatpack made up of panels. Funeral directors can assemble, disassemble, store and reassemble it.

Campbell Shaw points out that this helps to eliminate another taboo surrounding funerals, the cost. Her hand-woven willow coffins are priced between PS650 and PS800. Renting one of her coffins, including a coffin lid, is PS200. Delivery costs are not included. “I’m still amazed at how much it is frowned upon to plan a funeral.” Sun Insurance figures show that the cost of dying will increase by 5% in 2023 to PS9 658.

She says that offering coffin rentals to people is a way to show them that funerals do not have be complicated. “You can honor the person you lost in a simple manner.”

Images: Woven Farewell Coffins

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