DENVER — Casket makers catering to natural burials have offered biodegradable coffins made of such materials as recycled newspapers or cardboard. Ecoffins USA, based in Montrose, Colo., is selling caskets made of banana sheaves.
They take six months to two years to biodegrade.
Marketing director Joanna Passarelli says the company sold $40,000 worth of banana-sheaf or bamboo coffins to funeral homes last year.
At least 14 funeral homes around the country offer them.
"We either get an, 'Oh, my,' or, 'That's very interesting,'" Passarelli said. "Some people think it's a great idea. We've had funeral directors look at them and say, 'I guess you can go to hell in a handbasket now.'"
In natural burials, bodies aren't embalmed and eventually decompose into the earth.
Ecoffins USA is the sister company of The SAWD Partnership, which has helped fuel the "green" funeral movement in the United Kingdom.
Sax-Tiedemann Funeral Home and Crematorium in Franklin, Ill., has sold one banana Ecoffin since it started offering Ecoffins in the last several months.
Stephen Dawson, owner and president of Sax-Tiedemann, said it's not that far removed from the woven baskets funeral homes used in the 1950s and '60s to pick up bodies from hospitals and nursing homes.
Passarelli contends the bamboo and banana coffins, made in Asia, are better for the environment than the cremation process.
Her interest in ecofriendly coffins grew after her son's school showed the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" in which Al Gore warns of climate change. Her son came home wondering why he should bother with homework if the world would be destroyed.
"I said if everybody did one little thing it would have a snowball effect," she said.