Cardboard Coffins Being Pushed for Hong Kong

They're presentable, environmentally friendly and burn faster: cardboard "eco-coffins" may just be the solution to long queues at Hong Kong's busy crematoriums, officials say.

Health officials want to introduce the green coffins — made of corrugated cardboard and said to speed up the cremation process from 2 1/2 hours to an hour — to alleviate traffic at crematoriums, the government said Tuesday.

"With less time required for each session, we can arrange more sessions per day to cut queuing time for cremation," permanent secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Carrie Yau said in a statement. "That in turn will help ease the demand on our public mortuary."

Cremating the dead is more common and affordable than burials in land-scarce Hong Kong. The government said it has six crematoria that provide 34,400 cremation sessions a year — about 94 sessions every day — but families of the dead often have to wait more than 10 days until they are assigned a slot.

Although the cardboard coffins are more efficient and are said to produce less toxic gas during combustion, they aren't likely to be popular in Hong Kong, where skimping on the traditional Chinese rituals of sending the dead away is seen as a sign of disrespect.

But Hong Kongers should try to accept the advantages of the coffins, said to be gaining popularity in Japan and Europe, Yau said.

"The eco-coffin coincides with the Asian philosophy of integration between man and nature," Yau said. "Due respect is given to the deceased, regardless of a simple or magnificent coffin."