Doubt cast on cardboard coffins' eco-friendliness

BURIAL ONLY: John Guthrey has imported Ecocoffins but Christchurch crematoriums will no longer accept them because of safety and pollution concerns.
STACY SQUIRES/The Press
BURIAL ONLY: John Guthrey has imported Ecocoffins but Christchurch crematoriums will no longer accept them because of safety and pollution concerns.

A row has erupted between a Christchurch coffin importer and crematorium owners who refuse to use them.

Funeral directors have been sent letters from the city's privately-owned crematoriums saying they will no longer accept Ecocoffins, a brand of cardboard coffin with an oak veneer, imported by Christchurch man John Guthrey.

Crematorium Society of Canterbury general manager Barbara Terry said the Ecocoffins, imported from China, could be used for burials but not burnt in the crematorium because of the amount of ash they produced, coupled with safety concerns.

"There is no credible data or research that can make us feel confident the emissions from this product are of acceptable standards," she said.

"This particular supplier has made the decision to bring these caskets into the country and the onus is on him to present information to the industry.

"They leave a tremendous amount of fly ash, which does not combust and settles amongst the remains of the deceased like a tacky attachment. It is a sensitive issue and we must take care to return ashes to the family to our satisfaction."

A further reason cited by Terry was out of concern for her staff. She said the casket combusted almost immediately it entered the crematorium and did not allow staff enough time to safely close the door. North Canterbury Crematorium Ltd manager Phil Seal said he had conducted a trial with Guthrey and a scientist hired by Guthrey, and the pair had "acknowledged there was a problem".

"There is a residue on the cardboard casket," he said. "We won't cremate them. "Something is wrong with the caskets and the reality is they are not eco-friendly. They are OK for burial but not for cremation.

"If we compromise our resource consent, Environment Canterbury (ECan) will close us down and we can't afford that."

Christchurch crematorium owners spoken to by The Press agreed the onus to provide research on the composition of the cardboard caskets was on the importer, but their own tests had proved unsatisfactory. Guthrey said the caskets had been tested by a British company and were regularly used in Britain. He was working with ECan and a scientist with the hope of having the Ecocoffins accepted by crematorium owners as soon as possible.

"I want to work alongside the crematoriums on this issue. "Everybody must work as a team. Members of the public who have ordered them have to go to other parts of the country if they want to be cremated, and I hope pressure by the public encourages crematoriums to think again," he said.

"I dispute there is any problem with physically putting them in the burner."

The manager of Auckland's Purewa Cemetery and Crematorium, Clifton Thomson, said many Auckland crematoriums under the Auckland Regional Council's authority refused to use cardboard coffins because of air pollution.

The Press