Water-soluble urns are being used by some families to give their loved ones a more dignified sea burial than just pouring the ashes over the side of a boat, but the authorities say they are not allowed at funerals. The urns, in a fan-shaped shell design, float on water for 10 to 30 minutes before they sink. They are used in the United States and Europe, but the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department says they are not allowed and pose an environmental risk. But Daisy Yung Oi-yan, a former Productivity Council consultant and partner of Natural Stones, which imports the urns from the United States, insists they are biodegradable. She says the urns are made from recycled paper and dissolve in water in two to three months. 'I asked the FEHD whether they needed reports to prove the urns are biodegradable in water, but they said they didn't. I asked the officer which regulation the decision not to recommend these products was based on. They only said they were not suitable for Hong Kong,' Yung said. Yung first approached the department seeking approval for the urns in 2007. She received an e-mailed reply from an official, stating that 'applicants [for sea burials] are not allowed to use containers to hold cremated human ashes to be scattered at sea', to prevent nuisance and pollution. The official also quoted the permit conditions of sea burials, which stipulate that except for the remains of the deceased and a handful of flower petals, 'no food, flowers, ritual offerings or any other objects shall be thrown into the sea'. But a department spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post that it was up to families to choose which urns they used for sea burials. 'Whether depositing such urns amounts to littering will depend on how soluble they are and at what pace [they dissolve],' she said. But Yung said the urns complied with US and European environmental regulations. She began selling the urns in 2008 for HK$3,000 each. Ashes were placed in a biodegradable plastic bag, which went inside the urn, she said. The urn was then placed on the water with its opening sealed. Only 865 people have applied for sea burials in the three years since they were introduced in 2007 because of the shortage of urn-storage niches. At the end of last month, there were 12,000 applicants on the waiting list for reused public niches - the average waiting time is 30 months. Yung said more people would choose sea burials if a biodegradable urn was available and said the department was not doing enough to promote burials at sea. She said the government's free weekly boat service for 10 families introduced in January was insufficient to meet rising demand for sea burials. 'Each family is allowed several people to board the boat, but a lot of families like to bid farewell to the deceased,' Yung said. Since it began in January, 79 families have used the free boat service and 85 were on the waiting list, the department said. The department spokeswoman said it was not under-promoting sea burials and that it took time to change attitudes. Extra ferry services would be arranged if demand increased, she said. A reusable wooden tube was provided to help families scatter ashes on the free boat trips and it was cleaned after each use. As well as the paper urns, Yung has also imported environmentally friendly urns from France that are made from soil, sand or salt suitable for both ground and sea burials. She has also developed in her mainland factory a water-soluble urn made from bath stone. Yung said water-soluble urns prevented ashes from being blown back in the wind. This made it difficult to hire a boat because most boat owners were averse to the idea of human ashes ending up on their vessels. Wong C. Ying, who bought a water-soluble urn to bury her father at sea in September, said the department should approve the urns. 'We followed our father's wish to have his ashes scattered at sea. But we felt uncomfortable at the idea of seeing his ashes blown everywhere,' Wong said. 'With a water-soluble urn, we felt that we respected our father. We felt it was so complete and his ashes would be contained.'