Biodegradable coffins and making your own coffin

Biodegradable coffins and making your own coffin


The coffin is probably the most symbolic item of the funeral proceedings and most families are not aware of the choices of coffins that are currently available.

It is only right that the family should choose the style of coffin that is most fitting to the deceased person, particularly if the traditional coffin shape is not the family's choice. Traditional "shaped" coffins, made of hard oak or elm wood, have been used to bury people for years. Only since hardwood became expensive to buy did chipboard veneered coffins become the replacement because of the manufacturing costs.

Funeral directors generally use chipboard coffins finished with handles, nameplates and ornaments, which resemble brass but are generally made of plastic materials.

Environmental issues

Veneered coffins, when used for cremation, give off pollutants into the atmosphere and it is understood that formaldehyde is used when making the chipboard, which is also harmful to the environment. In recent years other coffin options have been developed, and there is now a choice of environmentally friendly coffins available to both the public and funeral directors, which meet the beliefs and needs of the bereaved.

The cardboard coffin

These coffins are rigid, carry well and may be decorated or personalised by the family, using water based paints. Alternatively, the coffin may be draped with a flag, which is usually available from a funeral director for a nominal cost, or a cover/quilt could be used or even made by the family.

Bereavement services can supply a purple velvet pall cover, trimmed with gold, for use during the service to cover the coffin, at no additional cost to the family. These coffins can be used for burial or cremation and they offer lower pollution rates when used for cremation, making them an environmentally friendly option. They are also biodegradable and are a good option for families who believe in protecting the environment.

The bamboo coffin

Bamboo coffins are all woven by hand which gives them their distinctive, handcrafted appeal.

They are supplied with a bamboo head rest and a liner made from heavy duty unbleached cotton, which has a tight weave so as to make it waterproof. They are also suitable for both burial and cremation.

The willow coffin

This is a wicker coffin that is strong and very attractive to the eye. They are hand woven but tend to be slightly more expensive in comparison to the bamboo coffin. They are suitable for burial or cremation.

There are a number of different styles and types of coffins available, which range from the American "casket" type to carefully sculpted unique designs, which can be made by craftsmen for the funeral.

Obviously, these coffins will cost a large amount of money to purchase, but are available if requested.

Instructions to make your own coffin

The coffin should be made, using exact measurements for the deceased person, so that the coffin is not oversized, because this would cause problems for the burial or cremation authority. An accurately sized coffin will also be easier to handle and manoeuvre.

The coffin must be suitably made and constructed to ensure that it will bear the weight of the deceased person.

The coffin must not be varnished, but water-based paint can be used to decorate the coffin if desired.

The use of plastic, zinc and pitch must be avoided in the lining and construction of the coffin. Cotton sheets should be used to line the coffin to prevent any seepages.

The deceased should be dressed in their own clothes, which must be made of cotton, polyester or linen. Leather or rubber-soled shoes, jackets or wool clothing and any type of plastic must not be used to dress the deceased.

Please also ensure that no inflammable items are placed within the coffin, which could cause an explosion during the cremation cycle. This also includes aerosol cans, batteries, bottles and coconuts, which, upon cremation, can cause severe damage to the cremator brickwork.

You must also ensure that if the deceased was fitted with a pacemaker or any other type of implants, that they have been removed by either the funeral director or the hospital.

These restrictions are applied mainly to coffins that are constructed for cremation, because serious damage to the environment would be caused otherwise.

Materials required

  • top: quarter-inch plywood (cut to size)
  • sides, ends and bottom: three-quarter inch plywood (cut to size)
  • two three-quarter inch thick reinforcing battens, lengths as long as the coffin
  • screws, gauge 8, one and a quarter inch long
  • wood glue
  • four chest handles with two screws for each end, or rope handles


  • attach reinforcing battens to the top of each side piece flush with edge and end, so that the lid rests on these and is tacked to them
  • attach the side-pieces to the bottom
  • attach the ends to the bottom and to the side strips
  • attach the handles or make holes for the rope handles to go through and tie off inside
  • the lid will then tack or screw down to the reinforcing battens
  • a nameplate of carved wood or card is needed. Alternatively you may simply write the name on the lid

This coffin is simple to make and very effective to look at and may be decorated on the lid with flowers, which you may choose to pick from your garden.

Useful contacts

Somerset Willow Company
(suppliers of traditional willow coffins)
The Wireworks Estate
Bristol Road
Somerset TA6 4AP
Phone: 01278 424003

Natural Endings
(suppliers of eco-friendly coffins)
151 Northenden Rd
M33 2HS
Phone: 0161 969 6690

Gillman and Son Funeral Service
(suppliers of cardboard coffins)
971 Garratt Lane
Phone: 020 8672 1557

Greenfield Creations Ltd
(suppliers of: cardboard coffins)
Chapel Road
Phone: 01440 788866

Arka Acorn Urn
(suppliers of recycled paper coffins)
37 Western Road
East Sussex
Phone: 01273 746011

Green Undertakings Ltd
(suppliers of cardboard and bamboo coffins)
“Hampden House”
Rosliston Road
Burton on Trent
DE15 9RA
Phone: 01283 540009

The Purple Funeral Company Ltd
(suppliers of cardboard, bamboo, wicker and chipboard coffins)
15 High Street
Bishop's Castle
Phone: 01588 638444

Sussex Willow Coffins
Brighton and Hove + Steyning
West Sussex
BN44 3RH
Phone: 01273 671430

Last updated on 30 April 2021