The Banana Coffin Issue: Are they truly “green”?

Ecoffin
Ecoffin

Are you into green funerals? Then, perhaps, the news item about Ecoffins USA caught your eye this week. This company, based in Montrose, Colorado, now is importing coffins made from Asian banana-sheaves to sell to funeral homes nationwide. These coffins, which are made from…well, banana sheaves…are biodegradable and last approximately six months to two years after burial.

But, are these caskets truly green, or is this product a case of “greenwashing”? A look into Ecoffins and their parent company in the UK shows that they are, at least, aware of the transportation factor and much more. And, when compared with traditional burials, the banana-sheaf coffin may truly provide a green answer to a funeral.

Ecoffins USA is located in a town in western Colorado, north of the ski town of Telluride and south of Grand Junction. This town appeals to both progressives and conservatives as it is a mix of environmentally-conscious people, farmers and uranium mining history. It also has an airport, one that is active in bringing skiiers into town to travel to Telluride from Denver and points west and south. But, it appears that airport is not needed, as the company in Montrose merely brokers the coffins to funeral homes across the U.S.

Ecoffins USA is a division of the World Fair-Trade (WFT) company, Ecoffins located in the UK, which is a company formed by SAWD Partnership in Kent – the “forefather” of green funerals in the UK. The Ecoffin Web site states:

Our company’s factory in China has recently been awarded Fairtrade status. This is in recognition of the fact that we have enabled our craftsmen to prosper whilst maintaining their time honoured livelihoods. We are the first UK company to attain Fair Trade status in China. The coffins are individually woven using age-old skills. They are transported by sea to the UK, “Russian-doll-style” – inside each other, maximising space thus minimising transport and fuel costs.

According to Ecoffins, “shipping one of our adult coffins from China to the UK uses no more fuel than a car journey of 4.63 miles.”

Banana sheaves are not the only renewable resources used for these handwoven coffins. Bamboo (not the kind Pandas like) is used as well, and those are the two choices that American users can pick from at Ecoffins USA. Nothing is added in the process – no glues, no metal fasteners, no formaldehyde, chemicals, pesticides or other preservatives. However, some natural plant dyes may be used to pigment the coffins for an overall aesthetically pleasing look. Ecoffins also works with WFT to support an artisan’s community.

If you wonder how this coffin can support a person who weighs up to 350 pounds, the coffins are made with an “eco-ply board” bottom. Our research shows that this board is a density fiber board, similar to plyboard, but without the added formaldehyde. Some of these ‘eco-friendly’ plyboards are comprised of post industrial/pre-consumer recycled wood fibers bonded together with a formaldehyde free resin (glue).  Some of these boards can be used in high moisture applications, but they must be sealed to resist deteriorating.

On the surface, this burial option offered by Ecoffins seems eco-friendly when compared to embalming (green funerals avoid the embalming process), concrete vaults and hardwood caskets with metal fittings. It also seems greener than cremation in one respect – the amount of chemicals introduced into the atmosphere during the cremation process. But, in light of the fact that cremations are less expensive than traditional funerals and that they offer a way to dispose of human remains without taking up land space, Ecoffins also offers biodegradable urns.

Ecoffins are available in the United States through funeral homes, crematories, cemeteries and natural burial suppliers listed on this page at the Ecoffin Web site. Of course, you probably can ask your funeral home to order an Ecoffin for you as well. Or, you can call Ecoffin to learn more about their company, their product and a way to order one for yourself if possible.

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