Ever consider a water coffin? The funeral industry is responding to the increased number of people who wish to dispose of their ashes in an ecologically responsible manner.
On the other side of the fence, the grass may be greener, but is death?
A growing number of people who spend their lives recycling plastics and tracking their air miles are considering how to dispose of their ashes in the most environmentally friendly manner. Now, a funeral business that is more tuned in to the various and exotic final desires of the “customer” can aid.
Last weekend, a flat-pack coffin that you assemble and paint yourself received the first Dutch “final footprint award” with its designs for a “CO2-neutral” water coffin at a crowded funeral fair in a church in Amsterdam.
Cor Geijtenbeek, co-owner of the design firm Coffin in a Box Company, adds, “Environmental consciousness needs to extend to everything we do.” “We keep our plastics separate. We consider the vehicle we drive. We must also consider our previous journey’s decision.”
Death is a company that thrives on expansion. According to the World Health Organization, more than 100 people die per minute – 56 million in 2015, with a 25% increase to 70 million by 2030.
Burial, according to Geijtenbeek, is healthier for the environment than cremation. However, despite the fact that three-quarters of Britons choose cremation, graveyard space is running scarce, with nearly half of local authorities anticipating their cemeteries to be filled by 2033.
When a new casket comes for internment, the Dutch approach has been to enable tombs to be reused, with old bones buried significantly deeper. This is problematic since many modern coffins are not biodegradable.
“In the past, people used just wood coffins with cloth inside, but now it’s only chemically treated wood goods with synthetic glues in the casket and frequently paint and varnish for a high-shine impression,” Geijtenbeek explains. “These coffins are not biodegradable in any manner, and they are frequently manufactured in China or Eastern Europe and delivered.”
He went on to say that in certain cases when a grave is emptied and the bones buried deeper to make room for the next tenant, the synthetic coffins remain entirely intact while the corpse decay.
“Cremation isn’t always better for the environment,” he continues, “since it consumes a lot of energy and increases the carbon footprint.” “It’s best for the environment to have a simple burial with biodegradable items.”
As a result, his company, which already makes the low-carbon flat-pack poplar coffin, is now collaborating with Ecor on a variant with recycled cellulose fiber sides.
He has sold a few hundred of his original poplar wood model, which cost €289 (£250) or £299 and was shipped over the mail to customers in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and Switzerland, calculating that each one had a CO2 footprint of 4kg, compared to 25-30kg for a typical coffin.
At the Dutch fair, he wasn’t alone. Along with a contentious “Sarco” euthanasia coffin, FAIR coffins also offered eco-friendly shrouds, partially recycled and biodegradable coffins, and coffins created by persons with disabilities — while water coffins made from Hainsworth’s wool, willow, and cardboard may be found all over the world.
Green cemeteries favor biodegradable coffins, and Prof Douglas Davies, head of Durham University’s Centre for Death and Life Research and author of hundreds of books and studies, points out that a “wet” woodland burial is becoming more popular than a “dusty” graveyard. “There are as many natural burial places as crematoria in the United Kingdom,” he remarked. “A woodland burial is a vibrant place, full of life, activity, and optimism.”
A greener casket was clearly intriguing to Mieke van der Ploeg, 66, an undertaker from Den Dolder, during the Dutch funeral convention. “A growing number of individuals prefer eco-friendly coffins; my husband runs a natural cemetery with roughly 150 places and solely wants eco-friendly caskets,” she explained.
According to Paula Kemper, who used one to cremate her 95-year-old mother, the Ikea-style process of creating and decorating a coffin offers emotional advantages for the buyer. “We got this coffin, put it together with my husband, and painted a beautiful tree of life on it.” My mother had seven children, as well as more than 30 grandkids and great-grandchildren, so every one of the children fashioned a flower to decorate a branch. It encourages you to do something with your sadness.”
Two Coffin Clubs were conducted by celebrants Kate Dyer and Kate Tym, who handle funeral services, allowing individuals to create their own Earth to Heaven cardboard water coffins. They had a lot of fun building the Coffin in a Box, and they feel that this type of innovation is critical for giving people greater control over the funeral process.
“There’s no thinking beyond the box,” Kate Tym said. “We’ve become absolutely trapped in the Victorian age, with guys dressed like Dickens characters, and I don’t think the next generation wants that.”
Even though cremation is becoming increasingly popular, Geijtenbeek admits that the most recent process, resomation or “water cremation” – in which the flesh is broken down by an alkaline solution of potassium hydroxide and then the skeleton is pulverized – has been shown to have a lower carbon footprint.
However, burial is the sole choice for religions like Islam and Judaism, and Britain has yet to have its first water cremation because of concerns over what happens to the liquid residue. If Shakespeare’s gravedigger in Hamlet was unconcerned about tossing Yorick’s skull around, we seem to be more sensitive about death nowadays.
We’re also possibly busier. “It’s a disadvantage if you have to create your own water coffin when you are already busy preparing a funeral,” Linda Drenth, 39, from Veendam in Groningen, who is learning to be a funeral director and was one of the throngs at the Amsterdam conference, said.
William Warren, a British furniture craftsman, is all for making DIY green water coffins in good time. He’s distributed over 1,000 open-source designs for his Shelves of Life, a bookshelf that transforms into a water coffin, in different weights and sizes, and his future gravestone is now weighing a grandfather clock. “It’s reassuring,” he adds, comparing it to making a will. “We’ll all decay or burn, and we’ll all be thrown back into the vast pot.”
“I’m not sure I’m living the type of lifestyle to be very excellent compost,” he adds as an afterthought.