Environmentally friendly funerals

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently finished its investigation into the UK funeral services sector. One of its main conclusions was the need for more transparency. Funeral Directors and crematorium operators had to display prices more prominently in their premises and on websites. The CMA believes that this will help families to make more informed choices. But what about environmentally friendly funerals? How do you make the best choices with the planet in mind?

Choosing an environmentally friendly funeral

An area that wasn’t really touched on by the CMA was the environmental cost of a funeral. It would be interesting to know whether concerns about the planet are influencing more people’s funeral choices. The topic of green burials is certainly attracting more interest from the media. Indeed, over the past few months Musgrove Willows has featured in several magazine articles and appeared in a CNN documentary regarding environmentally friendly funerals.

Weaving willow coffins
CNN filming in one of our coffin workshops

Burial or cremation?

Depending where you live, one of the main decisions will be burial or cremation using fire. (Resomation is gaining in popularity in some American states. This process uses water to ‘cremate’ the body. It is currently not permitted in England.)

In the UK, around 8 in 10 people are now cremated. Nearly all the cremator machines in the UK are powered by gas. According to the Natural Death Centre, a traditional cremation releases around 250 pounds of carbon dioxide and the fuel required is equivalent to a 500 mile journey by car. Any mercury from tooth fillings or metal from joint replacements will also pollute the atmosphere as the body is burned. Many crematoria still don’t have a mercury abatement system installed and pollution of this nature is linked to damage to the brain, fertility and the nervous system.

Is burial environmentally friendly?

So, burial it is then for a greener funeral? Well, yes and no. Embalm the body and the chemicals will leach into the soil. Any metal or plastic in the coffin is not going to biodegrade. Then there is the environmental impact of the coffin itself. How long did the tree take to grow before it was felled? How many nails and how much glue were used in its construction? Is the coffin manufacturing process as ‘green’ as it could be? How about the burial plot? In highly populated areas land is scarce and prices are high. The sheer cost of a burial can be prohibitive for many. Could the land be put to better use?

Green burial alternatives

The rise in woodland and green burial sites in Britain is a strong indication that people are considering how their final resting place impacts on the planet. As mentioned in a previous blog, these sites are unregulated and standards can vary enormously (be sure to ask if they are a member of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds). The Natural Death Centre is a good source of information.

willow coffin
Only non-toxic dyes are used alongside natural processes

Choose a green burial site and you will need an eco-friendly coffin. Hopefully, this is where Musgrove Willows can help.

Willow coffins for environmentally friendly funerals

Our coffins are made by skilled weavers with willow grown on our Somerset farm. Our weavers don’t need to use nails, screws or glue. Natural processes (such as steaming, boiling or stripping) can be used to alter the appearance of the willow. Rainwater is extensively harvested and wood is used to heat our boiler. Non-toxic dyes produce an extraordinary willow colour palette for our weavers to work with. And the best aspect? Willow is not only beautiful it is also sustainable and eco-friendly. A crop can take less than 3 years to become established. The willow rods can then be harvested every year for decades. All that helps to make a strong case for using one of our willow coffins if you would like an environmentally friendly funeral.

Environmentally friendly funeral
Our weavers do not use glue or nails

Thankfully for us, the demand for high quality willow coffins is on a strong upward trajectory. More of our customers are choosing to customise a coffin (e.g. with a specific colour of band or handle) and wooden toggles are far and away the most popular choice for closing the lid. By opting for toggles (rather than screws) the coffin is entirely free of metal and plastic. Crucially, our coffins have been tested rigorously by the Funeral Furnishing Manufacturers’ Association and are suitable for any cremation or burial – including  woodland.  

Willow coffin
Non toxic dyes can be used to colour our toggles

Eco-friendly coffins

Aside from being fully biodegradable and ideal for any burial, a willow coffin is also an excellent choice for a cremation. Willow is entirely natural. A product such as MDF has the potential to emit harmful gases as it is burned due to the adhesives used in manufacturing. Choose a material such as cardboard and it may burn too quickly. If this is the case, then more power will be needed to cremate the body.

Making a coffin base
Making a coffin base

Other environmental considerations

Other environmental and ethical considerations include the place of manufacture. Has the coffin been made locally or is it being shipped from overseas? Have the constituent parts of the coffin been imported? Is the manufacturer treating its staff fairly – paying a decent wage and ensuring that working conditions are good?

It is nigh on impossible to calculate the cost to the environment of a traditional burial or cremation. There are so many variables to consider. Alongside the choice of burial versus cremation and how and where the coffin has been made, there is also the matter of transportation. For example, does the Funeral Director have an electric hearse. How many guests are attending the service and/or wake? Have the flowers been imported? It’s enough to make your head spin.

These days, consumers are confronted with so much choice. The funeral industry is no different. If you or a loved one would like an environmentally friendly funeral then choosing an eco-friendly coffin is a good starting point. Just be sure to check the claims made by a manufacturer.   

Boiling willow
Loading our boiler with willow

Every Musgrove Willows coffin is made in Somerset with willow grown on our farm. Our weavers work incredibly hard and rightly earn a very good wage. We can vouch for the quality, the provenance and the eco-credentials of our coffins. If the environment matters to you, please ensure that the supplier of your coffin can do the same.