Biodegradable Burial Containers for Green Burial: Part 2 – Coffins & Caskets
This is the second blog in our series about Biodegradable Burial Containers, where we explore biodegradable options for green burial. In the first blog, we discussed, ‘What is a biodegradable burial container,’ ‘Why choose a biodegradable burial container,’ and talked about the first option, ‘Burial Shrouds.’ In this blog, we pick up from there to talk about other green burial options, focusing on coffins and caskets.
So what is the difference between a coffin and casket anyway? The two words are often used interchangeably, but the technical difference is that a coffin has 6 or 8 sides that naturally mimic the body’s shape (wide at top, narrow at the bottom) and a casket is rectangular. During the 1800’s, as funerals moved away from being a family affair and into the hands of “undertakers,” the emerging funeral industry moved away from coffins and opted for caskets instead. At the time, the term “casket” referred to a jewelry box (where you would put a precious object), and it was thought that the rectangular design was less offensive as it did not so obviously allude to the body inside (Harris, 2007, Grave Matters, p.43). Many modern day makers of biodegradable burial containers are reclaiming the 6-sided design and term “coffin” as a way to help us embrace death as a natural part of life, versus something to shy away from. Here’s a fun little video if you want to learn more.
You don’t have to be buried in a coffin or casket to be buried in a green cemetery (a burial shroud will suffice) but here are some green burial approved options for coffins and caskets, with descriptions, prices, and where to buy.
I’m imagining all the raised eyebrows and funny thoughts when people first hear the words “cardboard coffin.” It’s easy to think that cardboard = cheap, but that’s simply not the case with the custom designed coffins made specifically for green burial from Mourning Dove Studios. Carol Motley, who is passionate about green burial, spent years designing a sturdy biodegradable coffin manufactured in “a factory that uses environmentally sustainable practices and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The cardboard is made with a bleach-free process, using 25-35% recycled material and a starch-based adhesive. No metal, no toxins.” Other funeral homes carry cardboard coffins but we assure you, there is no comparison. The ones you can purchase from funeral homes are less expensive, although in our experience, not as stable when transporting, and they are processed with bleach and other chemicals. The coffins made by Mourning Dove Studios are sturdy, well made, and environmentally friendly. They measure up to 6’2” and carry up to 350 pounds and can be used for both burial and cremation.
So what’s so special about a cardboard coffin anyway? You can personalize them! They can be painted, notes and last words to loved ones can be written on them, pictures with your memories can be decoupaged onto them. One of the essential practices for processing grief is performing rituals and acts of love – and the time and love put into personalizing a cardboard coffin gives people the opportunity to perform an act of love and recall memories of a loved one as notes are written or pictures are decoupaged onto the coffin. This is a wonderful opportunity for children to be involved in a way that lets them express their love and gratitude without feeling set aside to simply observe adults taking care of death. Watch this video to learn more about the inspiration behind these coffins.
Cardboard Coffin Cost: $300
Where To Buy Cardboard Coffins: If you are in the Asheville area, the Center for End of Life Transitions carries their coffins. If you are not local to the Asheville area and are interested in purchasing one of Mourning Dove Studio’s coffins – contact Mourning Dove for more info.
Woven Fiber Casket
There is no denying the loveliness of these caskets. They are just pretty! The name is exactly what it implies – they are caskets made of woven materials, in this case, biodegradable and from sustainable sources. They are usually designed with handles, can include liners to prevent leakage, weigh about 50 pounds, and can carry up to 350 pounds. The body can be placed directly inside the casket, or be placed in a shroud and then placed inside the casket. Woven fiber caskets can be used for both burial and cremation.
Woven Fiber Casket Options: Fiber options come from renewable materials and include bamboo, willow, seagrass, cotton, banana leaf, and rattan. They come in a variety of shapes such as oval, hexagonal (coffin shaped), or rectangular. The natural fibers lend to an assortment of eye pleasing natural colors.
Woven Fiber Casket Cost: $950-2800
Where To Buy Woven Fiber Caskets:
- Local: Although not local to Western NC, Mary Lauren Fraser, based in Massachusetts, is the only manufacturer we know of in the U.S.. She delivers throughout the country (cost of shipping varies based on location) and also makes special caskets for babies, children, and pets (by request).
- Earth Caskets (most affordable – price includes shipping)
- Natural Burial Company Store
- Passages (they deal mostly in wholesale, but call them and they will help you locate their products)
Green Tip: Most woven caskets are made in Indonesia. The companies that import them go to great lengths to minimize the carbon footprint in importing them. That being said, if you go with Mary Lauren Fraser mentioned above, you are minimizing carbon footprint.
Pine caskets appropriate for green burial combine the look and feel of a traditional casket with an eco-friendly approach to construction and are an attractive choice for those who find comfort in familiarity. A major argument against traditional caskets is the use of large amounts of hardwood and exotic trees that are cut down in order to construct them. Pine trees are a wonderful alternative. They are a sustainable and renewable choice based on their speed of growth and ability to replant and they are abundant in the U.S.. Pine caskets approved by the Green Burial Council contain no metal, or at least a very minimal amount (some use metal screws), and do not use toxic stains or sealants. They are also made by hand versus in a large manufacturing plant, such as the thousands sold every day at most funeral homes.
Pine Casket Options: When it comes to pine caskets, go local if you can and support a local woodworker. At Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, we use Piedmont Pine Coffins, which is an amazing company! They use local southern yellow pine planks, which they cut, edge, and join with hand tools. If you or someone you know is handy with wood, Piedmont Pine Coffins has a DIY option for $4.95 (digital) to $13 (print) that gives instructions for building a pine coffin yourself. You can check out this video to learn more about their production process.
Pine Casket Cost: $800-$1800
Where To Buy Pine Caskets:
- Local: The Center for End of Life Transitions and Piedmont Pine Coffins are two local options. If you can’t find someone local to your area, Piedmont Pine also ships long-distance.
- Natural Burial Company Store offers a kit with supplies- (DIY or assembled)
Green Tip: If you decide to build your own casket, be mindful of the materials you use. Select wood that isn’t treated with chemicals and avoid chemically based stains and varnishes.
Part 3 in the series will cover some of the more “unusual” options for natural burial. Join our newsletter and follow us on Facebook so you know when our next blog is published. If you are interested in learning more about green burial options and burial at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, please feel free to contact us. We love exploring the possibilities and sharing what we know.