Coffin or casket? Polished timber or pressboard? Cardboard or Costco? So many options..!

Illustration of the differences between a casket, which is rectangular, and a coffin, which has six sides.

While shrouds or a pod grown from mushrooms are all choices available to us now, the vast majority of us are still placed in a coffin after our death. With online shopping and Costco available for coffin purchases, the range has greatly increased beyond the showroom of a traditional funeral home. This smorgasbord of choice can provide very creative options, or it can feel like more pressure to not make the ‘wrong’ choice for your person who has died (or yourself!).

So how do you make a decision that is authentic to your values, your personal style and your wallet? 

Tender Funerals Canberra Region board members hold a cardboard coffin painted with native flowers.

Tender Funerals Canberra Region board members with a cardboard coffin painted by our community member, Su Hanfling

Personal Style

Does everyone have a relative who says ‘Just stick me in a cardboard box. I won’t care – I’ll be dead!’? A cardboard coffin is a great choice for more than just the low cost; because it can be decorated, you and your family can really make it personal. Some people like to decorate their own, ready to go, or can order their coffin with a printed wrap. For others, decorating the coffin together after a person has died is a wonderful way to share stories and let their feelings be in the moment. Woven coffins can have flowers, ribbons, fabric or other special items inserted into the weave by friends and family. Of course, many people really want a traditional coffin with a lacquered timber finish and that is the right choice for them.

Disposal method

If you want a natural burial, you must choose a coffin (or shroud) which will biodegrade quickly with minimal chemicals included as part of the construction process. 

Environmental Impact

It’s pretty simple; the less processed your coffin, the less impact it will have when it is buried or incinerated. Here are some considerations.

Is it coated or sealed?
Timber, compressed wood and some cardboard coffins have laminated coatings or use resin in their construction. These delay biodegrading and release chemicals into the ground (if you choose burial) or into the air (if you choose cremation)

A woman decorates a wicker casket with flowers

Wicker caskets can be sustainably harvested and beautifully decorated.

How is it harvested?
Are the materials sustainably sourced? Quick-grow materials like wicker, seagrass and sustainably harvested plantation timber will have a lower impact than old-growth timber.

How far has it travelled?
Carbon miles can be a consideration for specialty coffins, especially as they are large and often heavy.

Price

Usually, the first thing people mention to us about coffins is how expensive they are! This is especially true for something you literally dispose of almost immediately. Rest assured, though, there is no need to spend a fortune, or even anything, on a coffin or similar. 

If you make your own casket, the price can start at zero dollars. Tender has cardboard coffins available now for $150, and we’ll also offer oak, MDF and woven coffins for a few hundred dollars once we’re open. For some people, traditional lacquered caskets are an important part of their culture or heritage. We can help you source the casket right for you, or you can provide your own. 

If you are using a traditional funeral home, ask to see options from a catalogue, not just their showroom. You can also ask about cheaper options for handle fittings and linings. You are able to provide your own coffin with any funeral provider, but some may charge a fee for you to do that.

Of course, if you really want a casket with bluetooth speakers connected to a Spotify playlist that your friends and family can update for you even after the burial, then go for it! But you’d better start saving now…

The key takeaways are:
  • Choose a coffin that matches your values, budget and personal style
  • Consider if coffin decorating may be a healing and celebratory opportunity for friends and family.
  • Ask for other options or provide your own if you don’t like what you’re being offered.

 

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Photo of hands with a request to donate to Tender Funerals