Hong Kong’s Covid toll leads some to eco-friendlier coffins

  • The city’s fifth wave of coronavirus has resulted in about 6,000 deaths, mostly among its largely unvaccinated elderly population
  • With the territory running out of coffins, more environmentally-friendly options are being introduced, such as those made of cardboard
Associated Press |

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Wilson Tong, CEO of LifeArt Asia, stands with models of eco-friendly paper coffins at the LifeArt factory in Aberdeen. Photo: AP

Hong Kong’s fifth wave of coronavirus has cost about 6,000 lives this year – and the city is now running out of coffins.

Authorities have scrambled to order more, with the government saying 1,200 coffins had reached the city last week, with more to come.

Space constraints make cremation a common burial practice in the densely populated city, and coffins are typically made of wood or wood substitutes.

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To combat the shortage, some companies are offering alternatives, such as an environmentally friendly cardboard coffin.

LifeArt Asia has cardboard coffins made of recycled wood fibre that can be customised with designs on the exterior. Its factory in Aberdeen can produce up to 50 coffins per day.

CEO Wilson Tong said there is still some resistance to using caskets made of cardboard. “(People feel that) it’s a little bit shameful to use so-called paper caskets. They feel that this is not very respectful to their loved ones,” Tong said.

A worker fixes screws on a paper coffin at the LifeArt factory in Aberdeen. Photo: AP

But he noted that the company offers designs that can reflect the religion or hobbies of the deceased, and the coffin can even have a personalised colour. “So it gives more than enough sufficient choices to the people, and so that they can customise the funeral and offer a more pleasant farewell.”

The company says its cardboard coffins, when burned during the cremation, emit 87 per cent less greenhouse gas compared to those made of wood or wood substitutes. Each LifeArt coffin weighs about 10.5 kilograms (23 pounds), and can carry a body that weighs up to 200 kilograms (441 pounds).

Hong Kong has reported about 200 deaths daily on average over the past week as many elderly residents who were unvaccinated die from Covid-19. The surge has put a strain on mortuaries, and refrigerated containers are being used to temporarily store bodies.

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Amid the rising toll, non-profit Forget Thee Not, which advises people on their choices for last rites, bought 300 cardboard coffins and caskets to either send to hospitals or give to families who need them.

“We have been promoting environmentally friendly and personalised funerals,” said Albert Ko, a board director at Forget Thee Not.

Ko said some of the elderly people who discussed their last rites with the organisation have been open-minded and welcoming to the idea of eco-coffins.

“We hope to take this opportunity to contribute as well as promote eco-coffins,” he said.

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