My options after death

The options currently available to people in Australia after their deaths are burial (in the earth or water) and cremation. There are many variations on the type and cost of the container and the final destination for the body or ashes.

Coffin, Embassy

Beta Caskets © Beta Caskets, Sydney

Throughout the world there are many options for disposal of a body. Choosing one method over another may depend on:

  • your culture and/or religion
  • where you live
  • how much money you have
  • environmental concerns
  • the laws of your country or state

The options currently available in Australia are burial (in the earth or water) and cremation. There are many variations on the type and cost of the container and the final destination for the body or ashes.

Here are some of the options for disposal of the body in Australia and elsewhere.

Traditional burials

Information supplied by Beta Caskets, Sydney

Embassy

Flat lid coffin with wide double-beaded mouldings on lid and sides. Manufactured in New South Wales from polished, veneered composite board in a maple colour. Cost: around $800 - $2000

This is a very popular model and represents around 26 per cent of all Beta Casket's sales in New South Wales and Victoria. Courtesy Beta Caskets, Sydney

Basic

Flat lid coffin with contoured narrow mouldings. Manufactured in New South Wales from unpolished, veneered composite board in a teak colour. Cost: Around $600 - $700

This is the basic model and represents around 18 per cent of all Beta Casket's sales in New South Wales and Victoria. Courtesy Beta Caskets, Sydney

Grecian Urn

Octagonal casket with moulded sides, and fully trimmed.Manufactured in New South Wales from solid timber (usually pine) in a rosewood colour. Cost: Around $2200 - $5200

This is the upper range model, and represents around 1 per cent of all Beta Casket's sales in New South Wales and Victoria. Courtesy Beta Caskets, Sydney

Biodegradable options

Australian Eco-Coffin

Made from recycled cardboard and plant material and natural glues. New South Wales. Cost: $200. May be decorated or hand-painted, preferably with water-based paints to reduce emissions when cremated. The fledgling Queensland business, Australian Eco-Coffins, sold eight of these coffins in 2002. Purchased from Australian Eco-Coffins, Queensland

Shroud

Handmade from pure natural wool and cotton ropes, and natural dyes. New South Wales. Cost: $185. This shroud is modelled on those commonly used in UK 'woodland' burials. In New South Wales, all burials must be in a coffin, except for Muslims who are permitted to be buried in a shroud in specific cemetery locations.

The Eco biodegradable coffin

Made in China from split and woven bamboo with palm cord strings. Supplied with water-resistant, pure undyed cotton liner. Cost: £195 (about AUD$550). Available throughout the UK and Ireland. Courtesy the SAWD Partnership, UK.

The SAWD Partnership began selling bamboo coffins in 2000 when they sold 12 coffins. In 2002, the company sold 502 coffins, and about 100 urns and baby or pet caskets. They hope to sell up to 1500 coffins in 2003. Currently available throughout the UK and Ireland, the company is hoping to find an Australian distributor.

William Wainman from the SAWD Partnership estimates that around 30 per cent of bamboo coffins are used for green 'woodland' burials, on the basis of environmental issues; 50 per cent for cremation, on the basis of cost; and 20 per cent in cemeteries. Many people have commented that the coffins look 'comforting'.

Woodland burials

"I desire that no lid be put on my coffin in the grave, but pure earth be thrown on the body wrapped in the sheet only."

Mrs G H Poole, in a letter to her brother Philip Chauncy, 1875

There are currently 100 woodland burial grounds in the UK (May 2000 estimates, Natural Death Centre, London). In most woodland parks, people can only be buried in shrouds or coffins made from biodegradable materials, such as natural fibres, softwoods, cardboard or wicker. Hardwoods and chipboards, and plastic or metal handles or other fixtures are not acceptable. Cremains containers and above-ground memorials must also be biodegradable, and the aim is to make the cemetery feel as much like a park as possible.

Concerns about the impact of materials used in coffin manufacture are not new. In the late 19th century Sir Frances Haden developed wicker coffins, designed to be open at the top and filled with herbs or flowers. Haden opposed cremation, but was an advocate of 'natural' burials that allowed the corpse to decay easily and quickly. Inspired by Haden, Melbourne resident Mrs G H Poole, dying of breast cancer in 1875, left instructions to be buried in a wicker coffin. She was buried in the 'mortuary cradle' she had commissioned, her body decorated with flowers and with earth placed inside before it was lowered into the grave.

Fantasy coffins

Expertly crafted and beautifully painted, coffins from Ghana called 'fantasy coffins'.

Kane Kwei's workshop manufactures hundreds of coffins every year for the Ga community, the dominant ethnic group in the region surrounding the capital, Accra. These coffins glorify an ancestor by representing their earthly success. They symbolise the profession or the aspirations of the deceased and are typically in the shapes of birds, fish, limousines and aeroplanes.

Mercedes Benz coffin

Teshi, Ghana. Made in the mid-1990s in the workshop of Kane Kwei. Painted timber with fabric lining. A merchant or wealthy motorist would use this type of coffin. Courtesy of Ray Hughes.

Spring Onion coffin

Teshi, Ghana. Made in the mid-1990s in the workshop of Kane Kwei. Painted timber with fabric lining. A farmer would use this type of coffin. Courtesy of Ray Hughes.

Ashes

Ash container - Plastic

After cremation, the cremains (cremated remains) of the deceased are placed in a container like this. After collection, the ashes can then be scattered, buried, turned into a diamond, or placed in another container for burial, storage or display.

LifeGem

Artificial diamond made from the carbon in cremated remains. Available throughout the United States in a variety of carats, colours and settings. There are no certified cremation facilities in Australia providing this service, but Australians could obtain a LifeGem by sending already cremated remains to LifeGem in Chicago. Cost: $US 2200 - $9900 plus setting. Available from LifeGem, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Acorn Urn

Made from 100 per cent recycled newspaper. Available throughout the UK. Cost: £25 (around AUD$75). Can be used in a variety of ways - buried or put on display. If kept dry, the urn will last indefinitely. Courtesy of ARKA, East Sussex, UK.

Urn

Made in China from split and woven bamboo, pure cotton liner. Cost: £30 (about AUD$90). Available throughout the UK and Ireland. Kindly supplied by the SAWD Partnership, UK.

Your options - have your say

How would you like your body to be disposed of after your death, and why? We're interested in your ideal method, even though it may not be currently available in the country you live in. Sign up to our site and make a comment on this page.


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