Hong Kong’s COVID toll leads some to more eco-friendly coffins

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak has claimed the lives of around 6,000 people this year — and the city is now running out of coffins.

Authorities have rushed to order more, with the government saying 1,200 coffins arrived in the city last week and more are on the way.

Space constraints make cremation a common funeral practice in the densely populated island territory off mainland China, and coffins are usually made of wood or wood substitutes.

To meet their shortage due to the COVID-19 toll, some companies are offering alternatives like an eco-friendly cardboard coffin.

LifeArt Asia offers cardboard caskets made from recycled wood fibers that can be personalized with designs on the outside. In its factory in Aberdeen, a district in southern Hong Kong, up to 50 coffins can be produced per day.

CEO Wilson Tong said there was still some resistance to using cardboard coffins. “(People think) it’s a bit shameful to use so-called paper coffins. They feel it is very respectful to their loved ones,” Tong said.

But he noted that the company has designs that can reflect religion or hobbies and the coffin can even have a custom color. “So it gives people more than enough choices, and so they can personalize the funeral and give a nicer farewell without the fear of death.”

The company claims that its cardboard coffins, when burned during cremation, emit 87% fewer greenhouse gases than those made of wood or wood substitutes. Each LifeArt coffin weighs approximately 10.5 kilograms (23 pounds) and can carry a body weighing up to 200 kilograms (441 pounds).

Hong Kong has reported about 200 deaths a day on average over the past week as many unvaccinated elderly residents die from COVID-19. The wave has put a strain on morgues and refrigerated containers are being used to temporarily store the bodies.

Amid the growing toll, the nonprofit Forget Thee Not, which advises people on their choices for last rites, has purchased 300 cardboard coffins and coffins to send to hospitals or donate to families in need. .

“We promoted environmentally friendly and personalized funerals. Now we see that Hong Kong needs more coffins. There are not enough coffins for the bodies in our hospitals,” said Albert Ko, board director of Forget Me Not.

Ko said some of the seniors who have discussed their final rites with the organization have been open-minded and welcoming to the idea of ​​eco-coffins.

“We hope to take this opportunity to contribute and promote eco-coffins,” he said.