Wendy Richard’s bamboo coffin is dead trendy

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By Michael MacLeod

MORE people than ever are dying to try out new eco-friendly bamboo coffins.

Eastenders star Wendy Richard was given an environmentally friendly send-off earlier this week, signalling how popular a ‘green’ funeral has become.

In light of her bamboo coffin, funeral directors and land-owners are now cashing in on the trend, saying that traditional religious ceremonies are dying out.

New age coffins are known as ‘eco pods’ and can even be made out of papier mache, while woodland burials are growing in demand too.

Natural burial plots are popping up all over Scotland, where traditional solid wood coffins are banned and religion is rarely involved.

Three of Scotland’s most popular natural burial grounds are owned by James Leedam, director of Native Woodland, who even has a plot in the Cairngorm National Park.

He convinced the Forbes clan in Aberdeen to donate large parts of their estate to natural woodland burials, where people have requested to be buried near ancient stone circles and trees.

He said: “Wendy Richard’s funeral was the most high profile bamboo coffin we’ve seen and there is a genuine feeling that the industry is growing thanks to such a high profile funeral.

“I believe that people will see that on television and in the newspapers and want to do the same.

“More people than ever care about the environment and not only do they want a biodegradable coffin, but they want their loved ones to come to an inspiring place to remember them, not a regimental busy cemetery.

“We don’t allow coffins which aren’t made of natural products, so we encourage coffins to be handmade with locally-sourced wicker, bamboo, reclaimed pine or timber, even papier mache eco pods.”

Eco coffins are far cheaper than standard solid wood versions which can cost up to £2,500.

A cardboard coffin costs just £350, a bamboo one similar to Wendy Richard’s will set you back £420 and a willow version is around £900.

The late Eastender’s star’s funeral on Monday came in the same week that one of Edinburgh’s biggest cemeteries, Mortonhall, began accepting certain types of new-age coffins.

Mark Porteous, a funeral director in the capital has been in the business for 20 years and has seen a big rise in the number of people requesting something other than the traditional coffin.

He said: “Up to 40 percent of people now want something alternative compared with five years ago when it was only about one in ten.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. The green burial movement’s new environmental standards for burials are excellent and will presumably soon become the norm. But as new initiative, we should not expect its ideas to be perfect from day 1. In fact, we find that green burial often considers the environmental aspects at the expense of the human ones. Environmental considerations are important, but not everything.

    Actually, they are the easier ones – we must return to what mankind did until very recently. The human aspects – psychological, social, spiritual – take more creativity and sensitivity: creating attractive, meaningful new ways of memorializing; discovering how to guarantee grave perpetuity in an overpopulated and ever-changing world; finding an acceptable new aesthetic to replace the gloomy old Victorian one we have inherited.

    In its forgivable enthusiasm, the green burial movement sometimes appears to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, to be blind to non-environmental aspects of burial. For example:

    1. Forbidding enduring stone markers. Firstly, a stone is not intrinsically environmentally-unfriendly, it is just natural stone. If the gloomy aesthetics of Victorian cemeteries have negative associations for us, let us change the style, go back to rugged old menhirs or boulders for example. But let’s not get rid of them for lack of imagination of anything better. Symbolic markers that resist time provide a subtle but important sense of continuity and a hope of transcendence to survivors and to cultures. And they do not hurt the earth.

    Secondly, it is naïve to assume that alternative marking methods such as GPS will be compatible and usable in a century or more, just as Windows 98 is useless just ten years later. Anyway, there is a fundamental psychological difference between gazing at the name or image of a relative on a grave marker and looking through the forest for some anonymous location that has no connection with the person lying there.

    2. Substituting grave markers with trees. However environmentally desirable and symbolic a tree planting is, a tree is hardly more immortal than we are, it will probably die within a century or less, and above all it is ultimately anonymous. Even in the medium-term, a woodland cemetery where trees are planted instead of placing stone markers will evolve into a beautiful, environmentally-friendly but altogether anonymous forest. It will not be a cemetery anymore than a forgotten mass-grave in the forests of Eastern Europe is a cemetery. Survivors will wander equally aimlessly through beautiful forests without anything specific to identify their loved ones with. Simple solution! Why not an old engraved boulder and a tree?

    3. Land consumption. There are now 7 billion of us and we are still multiplying. Burying all of us in low-density green cemeteries will consume too much valuable land, arable, urban, or wild – in a pinch, the needs of the living must come first. (If we want perpetual graves and not the recycled grave plots Europeans have to accept, the space needs will be even greater.)

    4. Perpetuity. The green burial concept does nothing new to guarantee the perpetuity of our graves. If land needs for the uses of the living or land speculation already threaten traditional cemeteries, what of marker-less woodland cemeteries which in a few decades will not even look like cemeteries? Add a few imposing menhirs to mark these graves and reuse of the land already becomes psychologically and socially less thinkable.

    Although we are on the right track with the elimination of ground pollutants in burial, we have yet to solve the land space needs and the grave perpetuity questions. Above all, if we wish to return to truly traditional ways, we must find a way to ensure the graves of our families rest undisturbed in perpetuity, without sacrificing the earth’s environment.
    Thomas Friese

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