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ARC Home > Projects > Archive :

Eco-coffins in South Africa

What kind of coffin would you like to be buried in?

This is the question that environmentalists and church leaders in South Africa are asking prominent figures around the world as they prepare to launch a unique initiative by the end of the year.

The plan is to make coffins out of the timber of invasive tree species, selling some at cost to poor people through churches and Hindu temples, and eventually selling the rest at a higher price to wealthier families around the world who will effectively be supporting the whole initiative.

ARC has been asked to assist this project, and we’re excited by it. It is a winning combination: using wood from trees that have to be cleared, employing people who might otherwise be unemployed, helping poor families cope with the financial side of funerals, helping richer people assist the whole process through choosing to be buried in eco-coffins, and thus subsidising other, poorer, people to pay for their own family funerals.

"If these alien invasive tree species were left to propagate naturally, they would cause a serious water-table crisis in South Africa within two decades," Guy Preston, Working for Water.
Invasive, alien tree species in South Africa include certain eucalypts, pines and wattles: species that in Africa have no natural predators. It is estimated that if they were left to propagate naturally, they would cause a serious water-table crisis within two decades. The South African government currently employs around 30,000 people every year - many of them would not otherwise be able to find employment - to cut down these trees.

The Eco-coffin project was the winner of the World Bank's 2005 Development Marketplace Award for Innovation.


Our obituary for Tony Poulter, who died in March 2007 . "He was one of the first people to make use of an eco-coffin; an irony that he would have appreciated."

Prominent South African politician buried in an eco-coffin

Original Eco-coffin leaflet

2011 Newspaper report on success of Eco-coffinx

The theme tune of the Eco-Coffins project was the ironic Forest Lawn by John Denver, sung here by Tom Paxton.

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Related information

July 8, 2011:
Prominent South African politician buried in an eco-coffin
Popular human rights activist, former minister, founder of anti-aparteheid organisations, the high profile Professor Kader Asmal chose to be buried in an eco-coffin, built under the auspices of a project ARC helped start in 2005.
Nairobi, September 22:
Plans to boost eco-training for clerics in Africa
Meetings with Africa Muslim and Christian groups have led to plans to introduce environmental training to clergy in both faiths.
Faiths for Green Africa
We are working with more than 25 Christian, Muslim and Hindu faith partners in Africa.