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Interested in a more eco-friendly funeral? If you’re concerned about your impact on the environment, choosing an eco-friendly coffin or looking into natural burials is a good place to start.  

We’ve given you some info below on eco-friendly coffins so that you can decide if it's the right option for you.

What to expect from eco-friendly coffins

Eco-friendly coffins are biodegradable. This means they’re a more sustainable option when compared with traditional coffins. They won’t release any toxins into the earth and they’ll decompose quicker. They’ll leave their surroundings less disturbed than a traditional coffin or casket. They can be made from waste materials too. For example, banana leaf is used for some eco-friendly coffins because it would have been wasted after the plants are harvested anyway.

Aren’t traditional coffins biodegradable?

Not completely. Most traditional coffins in the UK are made with veneers or varnishes that contain chemicals that can be left behind in the soil. They may also have synthetic linings or metal parts such as the handles or screws and fittings. So there are certain parts of a traditionally made coffin that won’t break down or may take decades to decompose. Eco-friendly coffins won’t have any parts that’ll be left behind in the soil. They’re designed to be completely biodegradable so that no trace of it is left behind.

Different types of eco-friendly coffins

What are your options when looking for a biodegradable coffin? Now that more people are worried about their own impact on the environment there’re actually a lot of options. We’ve listed some of the most popular ones below.

Natural woven coffins

Natural woven coffins are usually made from fast growing plants that are dried out and woven together.

Woven coffin with floral spray on top by Farewell Coffins
Woven coffin with floral spray by Woven Farewell Coffins
Open woven coffin by Shrouds and Ashes
Burial shroud in a woven coffin by Shrouds and Ashes
Environmentally friendly coffin with bespoke colours   Eco Coffins
Woven coffin with bespoke colours by Eco Coffins

The 4 most commonly used woven coffins are:
 

1. Bamboo coffins

Bamboo is an incredibly fast-growing plant. So when it’s harvested it doesn’t harm the plant or stop it from growing back. And typically, the bamboo used is not the type that pandas eat. Most companies that sell bamboo coffins should be able to tell you where they source them from. So they’ll be able to tell you whether they come from Fairtrade organisations too.

2. Banana leaf coffins

These are usually made using the dried leaf from a banana plant. Sometimes called banana cord, the dried leaf can be woven around other biodegradable materials such as dried cane so that it has a sturdy structure. The banana leaf is left after the plants are harvested each year so there’s no lasting damage to the plant or its surroundings. If it wasn’t used, it would just go to waste. And because it’s completely biodegradable it leaves no trace of toxins behind in the soil when made into a coffin.

3. Willow coffins

Willow is used to make eco-friendly coffins because when it’s harvested it’ll grow back to the same height within a year. And it can be taken from the same plant for up to 60 years. It breaks down much quicker than hardwood making it much more environmentally friendly than traditional coffins or caskets.

4. Seagrass coffins

The dried seagrass is spun to make a strong cord that will be woven with cane or bamboo to form a coffin. Much like the other woven coffins it’ll break down very easily in the soil. And it won’t leave any toxins behind. Just make sure the supplier you talk to gets their seagrass coffins from a manufacturer that harvests the grass from carefully managed paddy fields and not from the wild. When the growth of the seagrass is managed in this way a renewable cycle of growth can be encouraged. This is a more sustainable option.

Alastair 1
"We knew we wanted to make things quite natural and chose a wicker coffin."

Cardboard coffins

Cardboard coffins are usually made from recycled paper and break down quickly in the soil. They won’t pollute it either. Cardboard coffins can also be a fuss-free option. But they can be colourful and decorative if that’s what you’d prefer. Some suppliers will allow you to decorate a biodegradable cardboard coffin to remember a loved one. You could use paints or drawings. Or you could simply add flowers to the coffin. Talk to the supplier about environmentally friendly ways of decorating the cardboard coffin if you want to make sure you’re being as eco-friendly as possible.

Photo: Personalised Leeds United cardboard coffin by Greenfield Coffins.

Personalised Leeds United cardboard coffin   Greenfield Coffins
Cardboard is not cheap or very efficient for cremation, but is good for woodland burials, as are bamboo, willow, or even wool caskets, which also degrade readily in the soil.‚Äč
Karen Nutton, Celebrant

Wool coffins

A wool coffin may sound like it’s not that strong. But many manufacturers use other biodegradable materials to strengthen them like cardboard, jute and cotton. And they help the farming industry too. It’s another eco-friendly option that will eventually break down in the soil and you also have the option of personalising it. You could add an embroidered name to the coffin if that’s what you’d like.

Soft wooden coffins

If you’d still like to choose a wooden coffin there are some eco-friendly options available. These won’t have chemical varnishes on them. They won’t have metal fixings or handles. Instead, they’ll be made from untreated soft wood that will decompose in the soil without leaving anything behind. You may still be able to have handles that are made from the soft wood instead of metal. And you could also have organic cotton in the lining if you’d like. Even though soft wooden coffins are similar to a traditional coffin they’ll limit your impact on the environment.

Photo: Soft wooden coffin with floral spray by Ecological Coffins.

Soft wooden coffin with floral spray   Ecological coffins
If cremation is a must the greener choice would be non-laminated wood such as pine or willow, which reduces CO2 emissions and energy use.
Karen Nutton, Celebrant

Mushroom coffins

Mushroom coffins are made using the root structure of the mushroom called mycelium. Once these fibres are placed back into the earth they start breaking things down. But they also turn any toxins they find into nutrients for the soil. This makes the surrounding soil healthier so other plants and wildlife can thrive.

Read our guide and learn more about coffins made with mushrooms.

Burial pods

Burial pods made from organic matter have been made in Italy. These egg-shaped pods designed by the company, Capsula Mundi, are completely biodegradable. They’ll leave the body to naturally decompose in the soil and a tree is planted above to remember the person that’s passed away. The aim is for the body to be brought back to nature. But this type of eco-friendly coffin isn’t available yet in the UK. It’s still being tested. The company also offers smaller burial pods for ashes. These are completely biodegradable too and still allow you to plant a tree above.

Need help arranging a green funeral?

A funeral director can help you plan an eco-friendly send-off. Use our funeral director finder to look for funeral homes near you specialising in environmentally friendly funerals.

How much do eco-friendly coffins cost?

We’ve put together some estimated costs of eco-friendly coffins below. This may help you decide which option is best for you.

Type of eco-friendly coffin Estimated costs
Bamboo coffin £350-£480
Banana leaf coffin £520-£600
Willow coffin £440-£820
Seagrass coffin £440-£520
Cardboard coffin £240-£445
Wool coffin £800 – £1,125
Soft wooden coffin £495 (untreated pine coffin)
Mushroom coffin £1,150

*cost ranges taken from a range of sources listed below: 
https://naturalendings.co.uk/
https://cardboardcoffincompany.com/

What is the most eco-friendly coffin?

All the coffins listed above are a much better choice for the environment than a traditionally made coffin that’s made with materials that’ll stay around in the soil for decades. But arguably the most eco-friendly coffin is the mushroom coffin. This is because it not only leaves no toxins behind, but actually puts nutrients back into the soil too. That’s clever stuff. With more people looking into a more eco-friendly way to say goodbye to a loved one, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing more uses for organic materials like this at funerals.