Coming clean, going green

While the pandemic has changed the nature of funerals forever with ceremonies now offering seamless remote viewing, you can read more about live streaming here. Another quiet revolution has also been taking place with increasing demand for eco-friendly funerals that have cleaner, greener credentials.

Studies from around the world are reporting the environmental impact of funerals including the toxicity of embalming fluids, the glues and varnishes used in caskets, wastage of materials used for caskets and urns, and pollutants resulting from cremation and burial.

Fortunately for consumers, options are growing with choices available at every step of the way, from printing service cards in vegetable-based inks on recycled paper and chemical-free body preparation to burials in biodegradable caskets or shrouds and the availability of eco-conscious cardboard cremation urns. Here are two ways in which your departure plans can be more environmentally friendly.

Biodegradable caskets

Alternative choices range from a simple, sustainably grown pine box with rope handles that are commonly available to a growing trend towards woven wicker models and cardboard caskets.

Wicker coffins are hand-woven from renewable materials such as willow or seagrass, constructed without the use of glues, and fitted with natural, non-toxic lining fabrics and handles.

There are also a range of completely natural and biodegradable willow coffins available in Australia for purchase. Willow plants are grown sustainably, they are easy to harvest and require no fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. Willow is a carbon-neutral material and when burnt it gives off the same amount of carbon that it consumed throughout its lifetime. Willow coffins are also quite appealing based on their affordability.

Cardboard coffins, which are legal in New South Wales, can be an even cheaper choice starting at around $150 upwards. Pricing can go up to a few thousand depending on the level of detail such as the use of veneer exteriors and glues that add a greater level of pollution. To ensure your choice is suitable, it is advisable to check how the item was made and check what materials were used.

Eco-friendly Shrouds

For centuries, shrouds or winding sheets made of linen, hemp, silk or satin were commonly used as burial wraps. In Britain an act of parliament, aimed at propping up the wool trade, stipulated in 1666 that only wool be used as shroud fabric or else a fine of five pounds could apply.

These days shrouds are becoming popular again for their simplicity and low environmental impact. They come in a variety of natural materials including felted wool, cotton, silk and linen. These can be plain fabric and bought off the shelf or custom-made and beautifully decorated with embroidery or natural dyes.

While in NSW the law requires the use of a casket or coffin for burial or cremation, according to Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW’s Factsheet 2: Understanding your Choices, you can apply to be buried in a shroud on either religious or non-religious grounds. Muslims are usually granted an exception and buried in shrouds, according to their custom.