Hongkongers urged to choose 'reusable coffin' to help save the planet

Non-profit group says its casket can help those dying to save the planet to preserve our forests

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 8:48am

Green-minded Hongkongers are being offered the chance to help the planet from beyond the grave by choosing the city's first "reusable coffin".

Used once a day, a recyclable coffin would save 48 cubic metres of timber over a year, enough to fill one and a half standard-sized shipping containers, according to the not-for-profit social enterprise that is promoting the idea, Green Life Passage.

The coffin is comprised of a hardwood "outer coffin", which can be kept for reuse, and a removable "inner casket", made of a strong honeycomb-core cardboard, in which the body is kept for cremation. One benefit is that the coffin burns more quickly, 26 minutes faster than a regular wooden one.

But the company admits it faces challenges.

Green Life chief executive Lam Ka-hei says she understands customers will have reservations about reusing a coffin due to superstition and conservatism. But, she said: "It's just like a hospital bed. Many people pass away on that same bed and someone else will end up using it."

Made on the mainland, the coffin weighs about 100kg.

It is Green Life's second environmentally friendly coffin after last year's launch of a coffin made from water hyacinth plants. Other green options include cardboard coffins made from recycled paper and natural fibres.

But many customers still hesitate to use such coffins due to their unconventional look and quality concerns, chief operating officer Eric Chan Wai-man says.

"The biggest challenge in Hong Kong right now is that there is too little knowledge about such products. There is not enough marketing being done and this is due to the conservative nature of the market," he said.

According to a Green Life poll last month, just 2.8 per cent of the 750 respondents cited the environment as their main concern when arranging a funeral; 19 per cent cited cost. About 60 per cent had no idea green coffins existed.

"Once more people are aware of these types of products, they will be more accepting," Chan added. "The most important thing is that we provide them with a choice."

The group is also seeking government help. It hopes the government will waive the HK$1,220 charge at crematoriums when a green coffin is used.

Under present rules, the inner casket would have to be removed from the coffin and taken to the crematorium separately, but Green Life hopes the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will waive the rule that bars coffins being removed from crematoriums, so the entire coffin could be taken to the funeral.

The department says it highly recommends the use of coffins with less lavish designs and the use of materials such as plywood, chipboard or recycled matter.