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‘Green’ coffins can be safety hazard

The increasing popularity of the so-called ‘green’ coffins is creating problems for crematoria, coffin manufacturers have been told.

Speaking at a general meeting of the Funeral Furnishing Manufacturing Association (FFMA), Richard Powell of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities and Tony Davidson, technical officer of Dignity Crematoria, explained that, while eco-friendly materials appeal to the public, they can constitute health and safety risks for crematorium staff.

Rick introduced the federation, which provides services to cemeteries and crematoria, and outlined its code of cremation practice. This includes guidelines for funeral directors, which are also very helpful for coffin manufacturers.

As he and Tony explained, the increasingly popular ‘green’ coffins – those made from willow, bamboo, softwoods, banana leaf, water hyacinth, sea grass, pandanus, woollen, felt and recycled compressed paper in particular – may not comply with present industry standards.

Tony talked about issues with the cremation and combustion process and government directives on mercury output, telling the audience how a crematorium operates and why certain materials can cause problems.  

He said it was essential that some coffins have a risk assessment before cremation, explaining that the rollers on some types of apparatus struggle to grip coffins with uneven or flimsy bases. This means a coffin may not travel fast enough to clear the end of a charger, requiring the operator to push the coffin with some force to shut the cremator door, thus putting a strain on them.

The FFMA were also told that staff were increasingly reporting ‘staining’ of equipment from these types of coffin. 

There are further issues with some of these new coffin types concerning cremated remains, continued Tony.  Because of the increased amount of box ash (the compressed paper-type coffin is the worst offender here), they can produce almost twice the amount of remains of a conventional coffin of veneer or solid wood.
These remains are very fine and eventually can block flue ways, which affects the efficiency of the cremator, while fine ash from a stack can also be a problem if it settles on cars in the car parks and the surrounding area. The increased amount of remains means standard size ashes caskets and polyurns are not always big enough to take all of it.

Shredded paper can also cause a cremation cycle to run over by as much as 30 minutes, which has an unnecessary impact on the environment by increasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. All these issues have an impact on the conditions of crematoria’s operating permits, said Tony. 

FFMA president David Crampton said the talk had created great interest among members and revealed problems they did not know existed. “We are grateful to Richard and Tony for bringing these problems to our attention,” he added.

“This is obviously a sensitive matter and needs to be handled as such. We will be arranging further meetings to include other associations and FFMA members will visit a crematorium to see at first hand how the cremation process works, with the aim of creating an industry standard for all coffin types including ‘unusual’ materials.

“It could take some time to reach a satisfactory conclusion because up to 70% of ‘unusual’ coffins are imported. However, we the manufacturers, funeral directors and crematoria can certainly work together."

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