Austin's Blog

 

Going green with eco-friendly funerals

August 31st, 2021    Author:

We live in a world where sustainability and ‘being green’ are finally at the forefront of many conversations and ways of living. But while most of us do what we can to live our lives in the most environmentally friendly way possible, how many of us have thought about continuing to be green even after we have passed away?

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it is estimated that by 2040 there will be 80 million deaths a year across the globe, and by 2060 this will be as high as 102 million per year. Unfortunately, funerals, burials and cremations, as they currently stand, are not very environmentally friendly affairs.

It’s hard to compute the scale of just how many bodies need to be buried or cremated per year; each one taking up energy, space, time and material. While it can seem wrong to think of it in this way, there are decisions we can all make to improve the sustainability of our own funerals, as well as what happens to our bodies after we die and what happens to all of our possessions. After all, no one wants to spend their lives doing what they can to help save the planet, only to leave a negative legacy behind them.

So what can realistically be done? Well, burials are much better for the environment than cremations, simply because of the huge amount of energy cremation requires to take place. That said, burials take up a lot of space and produce things that we don’t even think affect the environment, such as contaminants from coffins that can leak into the earth. This is something that can be easily helped with eco-friendly coffins. For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin there are many now available in all sorts of materials. Here at Austin’s we have a choice of two coffins. The Datchworth is handmade from English willow gathered in Lancashire and the Bramfield is made with sturdy recycled paper in a green finish with natural rope handles.

You could also opt for a green burial site. These are established woodlands or meadows covered in newly planted trees, which in turn helps the environment. We’re very green-minded and have lots of trees at Harwood Park, including our large woodland, Spencer Wood. Biodegradable burial pods are also becoming popular. They convert your body into a new tree over time – either as it decomposes or from the ashes. You become part of the earth’s natural system as the circle of life continues.

An article from National Geographic back in 2019 states that 78% of funerals in the UK are cremations. But did you know that the energy just one cremation uses is roughly equivalent to the energy usage of a single person over a whole month? Globally, cremation emits over 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for around 0.02% of world carbon dioxide emissions. Given the popularity of cremations though, and the fact that they are around a third of the price of burials, can there be a greener alternative?

Making its way around America – but yet to be legalised in the UK – is a type of water cremation known as resomation. The body is gently dissolved in a water lye solution through a process of alkaline hydrolysis. Testing will be needed before it is allowed to be used here in the UK, but it could be a greener alternative for the future that doesn’t burn the volume of fossil fuels that traditional cremation does.

You’ve probably already heard of cryomation. It involves immersing the body in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius. It creates zero emissions and all of the body is returned (less the moisture) instead of approximately 2.5% of the body with cremation.  The body becomes brittle and breaks up into small particles, which are freeze dried and placed into a biodegradable container. These remains are in a form that can be buried with much less space required, or can even give ongoing life, as you can use them to plant a tree, bush or other plant.

In 2020, Washington state became the first in America to legalise another new alternative to cremation; recomposition. Similar to a natural burial, bodies are turned to soil mulch through natural and efficient composting processes, and can then be used to plant new life.

Of course, funerals and wakes can always be made more eco friendly too, by thinking about the flowers and produce you use. Rather than choosing flowers that have to come from abroad, opt for those in season locally, or go very simple with wildflowers that are sustainably sourced. The same goes for any food and refreshments you serve afterwards; using locally sourced produce will reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

Coffin History

January 23rd, 2021    Author:

If you think about funerals, one of the first things that comes to mind is no doubt a coffin. Coffins have been around for thousands of years and nowadays they are available in various different materials and styles – from the traditional wood to the more eco-friendly willow or even cardboard. In fact, coffins have had a very interesting history from the start.

Where does the word ‘coffin’ come from?

The Old French word ‘cofin’ (meaning ‘basket’) officially entered the English language as ‘coffin’ in 1380. There is also a Modern French form ‘couffin’, which translates as ‘casket’. Whilst any box holding the deceased is called a coffin, a casket was originally a box used to store jewellery. It is thought that ‘casket’ was originally used as a euphemism by undertakers to steer away from the unpleasant images of a coffin.

When were coffins first used?

The earliest evidence of coffin remains ever found date back to 5000BC in China.  Among the remains were said to be a coffin belonging to a child and as many as 10 other wooden coffins at another site. Back then, the thickness of the coffin illustrated the level of nobility of the person inside; the double coffin consisted of an outer and inner coffin and the triple coffin had two outer and one inner coffins.

How were coffins originally made?

Traditionally, coffins were made as and when required by the village carpenter. So, the way it looked and how it was made would depend on his skills, as well as what materials were available at the time. If a poor person’s funeral had to be paid for by the parish then typically cheaper pine would be used, whereas someone very wealthy might have a yew or mahogany coffin finished with extravagant linings and decorations.

Victorian coffins

As you may well know, the Victorians were rather ‘obsessed’ with death. Funerals were big events and so there would be no expense spared on the coffin for wealthy Victorians – brass handles and luxurious burial shrouds were common. If a coffin was to be placed in a burial vault then they would usually consist of three layers, one of which would be lead, making the coffins extremely heavy.

In fact, back in 2014, a former Victorian coffin factory in Birmingham was reopened as a museum. The Newman Brothers made Winston Churchill’s coffin and when the factory was rediscovered in the last decade it was like a time warp with vintage tools and old newspapers still lying around.

More unusual coffins

Last year we blogged about ‘funeral customs from around the world’ and talked about the unusual coffins made in Ghana. Out there, funerals are often a much more colourful affair, a celebration of life rather than sorrow, and this is reflected in their coffin designs. They aspire to be buried in coffins that represent something special in their life – a hobby, their work or something symbolic to them.

Ghanaian artist Paa Joe says: “As humans, death is part of our life and everyone must go in style.” One of his coffins, modelled on a Mercedes Benz, is housed at The National Museum of Scotland. Carved from wood and painted white with silver, black and orange details, the coffin (made in 1998) features silver headlights, wing mirrors, an aerial and the trademark Mercedes-Benz badge.

Here in the UK, cardboard coffins are becoming increasingly popular and some follow a similar theme to the Ghanaian sense of humour. You can get ones with ‘return to sender’ stickers on, ones with your own photos on and themed ones from James Bond to Halloween!

The coffins we know today

Nowadays, most coffins are mass-produced, which does mean there are lots of options available to suit individual requirements. Here at Austin’s our Hertingfordbury, Kimpton and Amwell coffins are all worked on by hand by highly skilled craftsmen and we can provide beautiful ornaments too, including a: Gothic Cross, Sacred Heart, Crucifix, Masonic, Rose and Scottish Tassel.

For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin for their loved one we have a choice of two coffins. The Datchworth is handmade from English willow gathered in Lancashire. It is expertly fashioned by craftsmen using traditional skills and weaving techniques passed down through generations. The Bramfield is made with sturdy recycled paper in a green finish with natural rope handles.

To see our full range of coffins please visit: http://www.austins.co.uk/coffins.html

Cremation Caskets

June 11th, 2018    Author:

With people opting for cremation services more than ever, there are now many different ways to keep a loved one’s ashes. We look at some of the options…

Interment and burial

The traditional storage for cremation ashes is an urn or casket that can be buried in a cemetery or perhaps in a natural burial ground. Today you can choose one made from a range of materials including banana leaf, seagrass, oak and bamboo. There’s even one made of corn starch that decomposes when it’s underground.

Water urns

If you’d like to have a water burial for your loved one, you can get biodegradable water urns made from natural materials such as recycled paper. They’re designed to float on the water for long enough to say your goodbyes before they gently sink.

Scatter tubes

Some people prefer to scatter ashes in a place that had a special meaning to the person they’ve lost – perhaps a favourite woodland walk or a clifftop overlooking the sea.  Scatter tubes come with special easy-to-scatter tabs and can be recycled or composted afterwards. They can also be personalised with a picture that celebrates your loved one.

For the home

When you want your loved one close by, there are urns and caskets that are made to fit into your home. You could have a pretty floral urn, a teardrop-shaped urn, a wooden heart, a box decorated with dried leaves or a fabric urn made from wool and embroidered with a name plate.

For the garden

Rain, snow, sun – urns and caskets made from natural materials will withstand the elements to stay with you as each season passes. These weather-friendly caskets come in a range of designs from pretty pebbles through to Buddha heads.

 

* At Austin’s, we have a range of urns and caskets that are provided by Forever Urns. You can view the collection here

Remembering those we have lost

November 10th, 2017    Author:
Silk flower display on Bier in Austins Stevenage

Silk flower display on Bier in Austins Stevenage

Every year on the second Sunday in November, people around the country remember those who lost their lives in the First World War. The annual Remembrance Sunday is a time to remind ourselves of the sacrifice they made for us and to honour their memory.

In London, a National Service of Remembrance takes place at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, which is attended by members of the Royal Family, representatives from the Government and Armed Forces as well as many war veterans. There are also services held throughout the country. As a mark of respect, people wear poppies and join in with a national two-minute silence at 11am.

While Remembrance Sunday is about honouring our war veterans, we should remember that reflecting on those who’ve gone before us can be done at any time. Spending a few quiet moments thinking about loved ones who are no longer with us can help us to feel reconnected with them.

During this reflective time you might want to be alone with your memories. Privately, you can let your emotions surface – it may be sadness that your loved one is gone, happiness at the joy they brought to your life, or most probably a mix of emotions. This is your time to acknowledge what they meant to you and allow yourself space to think about them.

Other people may prefer to join with family and friends to honour a loved one. You may wish to visit their resting place with flowers, or simply come together to share your thoughts and memories.

We all have busy lives, but there’s something wonderful about allowing ourselves time for reflection. It helps remind us that our loved ones may be gone but they are never forgotten.

Austins will be laying a wreath at the Stevenage Remembrance Service.

Photograph is of our funeral bier in our Stevenage office with a silk poppy floral display.

* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623.