Cardboard Coffins – How to choose an environmental option.
Many of us will go our whole lives without putting much thought into how we will leave the earth, it is not a common conversation. Even if we have put thought into this topic it’s often as simple as “I want to be buried in a coffin” with no more details or specifications. However, the range of coffins is so varied and vast that can leave our loved ones just as confused as ever. The purpose of this article is to help alleviate some of that confusion and explain why some cardboard coffins are more environmentally friendly than others.
Many timber coffins are constructed from unsustainable hardwoods which are often sourced from old growth forests and contribute to the destruction of these intricate habitats. This is not a desirable outcome for anyone who cares about the environment and the ecosystems within these ancient forests.
To help to combat this situation many people are now choosing cardboard coffins. This option has become more popular over the last ten years and is suitable for all types of body disposition including green burials, conventional burials and cremation. While they are quickly becoming known as the most environmentally friendly coffin choice they are unfortunately often the subject of greenwashing. Greenwashing is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as the practice of making “people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. This article outlines the areas in which cardboard coffins can be less than desirable and there are some important points to understand to ensure you choose an ecologically sound option.
Cardboard coffins have a much lower carbon footprint and are known to be more sustainable, in production and use, than their wooden or plyboard counterparts. Although it is possible to source cardboard coffins that are made from 100% recycled materials the majority of options on the Australian market are only 75-90% recycled. The glue used to bind the cardboard may contain hazardous chemicals and as the cardboard naturally breaks down, these chemicals can leach into the soil and may affect the fragile microbes that promote decomposition.
Cardboard coffins can often lined with non-biodegradable plastic, or they will be just prior to the body being enclosed. Alternatively, the body will be wrapped in plastic by the funeral home to ensure there is no fluid damage to the cardboard. Most cardboard coffins are surprisingly moisture resistant, but bioplastic or highly absorbent bamboo terry toweling are biodegradable options if a liner is deemed necessary.
Most cardboard coffins currently available on the Australian market are imported. The carbon footprint created by the extensive transport is somewhat negated by the fact that they weigh significantly less than their timber counterparts, however, since there are Australian made cardboard coffins it is preferable to use this option. One Australian made cardboard coffin manufacturer, Daisybox, actually transport their products vertically which reduces transport emissions by 900%. So instead of four standard timber coffins being transported, 33 flat packed Daisybox cardboard coffins can be shipped instead.
Cardboard coffins present an opportunity for family and friends to personalise the container. This can be a lovely way to honour a loved one and bring together those left behind with a shared project. However, it can become an environmental issue if the decorations are not biodegradable such as laminated photos, plastic decorations or glitter. The choice of handles and fixings also need consideration to avoid the common plastic or metal options. Luckily there are many options for biodegradable paraphernalia and most funeral professionals will be able to assist with more environmentally friendly choices.
There are some restrictions on the types of cardboard coffins permitted for use which vary from state to state in Australia, so it is practical to confirm with your funeral professional that your choice will be appropriate. Most funeral homes will help you find the option that suits your family and that they will be comfortable using in their establishment. If they cannot help you achieve your wishes you are well within your rights to shop around. Fortunately, there are many funeral professionals who will support you to obtain a truly green burial and companies like Daisybox who are striving to provide sustainable options.
In conclusion, it is important to know that not all cardboard coffins are as environmentally friendly as assumed to be, so if you are choosing one for its environmental benefits, try to aim for these standards:
- made from 100% recycled materials
- made in Australia
- uses environmentally friendly glue
- no plastic liner
- no plastic handles or fittings
- no non-biodegradable embellishments
Cardboard coffins that meet these standards may not be the cheapest options available, but they will be less environmentally damaging during manufacture, transport and use, and biodegrade completely over time.
Written by Tamsin Ramone
 Queensland Parliament. Environment and Resources Committee: The environmental impacts of conventional burials and cremations. Issues Paper No. 3, June 2011
 For more information and recommendations see: https://heburials.com.au/blogs/news/end-of-life-professionals-who-support-green-burials
For more information on Daisybox Cardboard Coffins visit: https://www.daisybox.io/