Environment-friendly funerals pose challenge to traditional values

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am

When it comes to combating global warming, it is not just a matter of changing your daily lifestyle, but can also involve the way you are buried.

Activists are promoting green funerals, which challenge traditional Chinese values in blessing and showing respect for the dead.

Hospital Authority planning director Vivian Wong Taam Chi-woon, a board member of Friends of the Earth, opted for a green funeral for her father, Taam Kwan-yuen, who recently died aged 96.

Dr Wong's family has ordered an eco-coffin from the mainland made from recycled paper, coated with environment-friendly paint, and free from metal decorations and impurities. No special offerings will be placed in the coffin, while her father will be dressed only in his favourite clothes and shoes, along with the pair of glasses he used to wear.

To fulfil the last wish of her father for a memorial to him as someone who was born and raised in Hong Kong, she will cast his ashes into the sea after his cremation. Relatives have been urged to make donations to green groups rather than send wreaths of flowers.

Dr Wong hoped her father's funeral would help make a difference, no matter how small, to combating the deterioration of the environment.

'Being simple does not mean being raw. A green funeral can be as solemn as a splendid one,' she said.

'What really matters is not bringing blessings for my father, but for his children and grandchildren, whose survival might be threatened by natural disasters brought about by global warming.'

It takes less time to burn an eco-coffin than the more-expensive hardwood variety, while it also helps lower carbon and toxic emissions, cut energy use and save trees.

Health officials have said that the time people had to wait for a cremation could be cut from 15 to 14 days if eco-coffins became widely used.

Dr Wong said her family had not been impressed by the designs of the locally available eco-coffins, so turned to the internet for a better one. The cost for the funeral service including the coffin, transport and dressing of the body came to HK$20,000 to HK$30,000.

Although her father had not been consulted about using an eco-coffin, the family opted for a green funeral as her mother believed in living simply.

'It's always better for a family to break the taboo to talk about death and subsequent arrangements before it comes,' she said.