There are a lot of myths around the use of coffins for cremation in the UK, leading some to question the need for a coffin at all, so it’s best to understand the facts before making any decisions.
In the UK, the only legal requirement is that the body must be covered whilst in public, which allows for families to choose from a range of options including
- a shroud
- a casket made of natural materials e.g. wicker or bamboo
- a cardboard coffin
- a traditional wooden coffin
There have even been instances where people have made their own coffins, in consultation with the funeral directors and crematoria, to ensure it can be carried/moved easily, protects the deceased’s dignity and is safe to use in the cremator.
If you’re thinking of not using a coffin, or considering an alternative option there are a few practicalities that it is worth being aware of. Firstly, and most importantly, the crematoria have a strict code of practice which requires them to place the coffin and/or body into the cremator ‘as is’, save for removing a pall, flag or coffin cover. So, you shouldn’t use or include anything which may require crematoria staff to breach their code of conduct.
Secondly one has to consider the practicalities of manoeuvring the body. Cremators are quite narrow, tight spaces, typically with just enough room to take a single body. So, if you use a shroud, it is necessary for the deceased be placed onto some form of solid base board so that their body can be easily moved and placed into the cremator – again avoiding any issues for the crematoria staff.
Finally, as opposed to myths around the make up of ashes, coffins actually aide the function of the cremator. Traditional wood coffins in particular, help to raise the heat and can therefore ensure the only remains are human. It is exceedingly rare for traces of coffin to be found in ashes.
Using a pall or cover
Using anything other than a traditional coffin doesn’t mean you cannot add a personal touch. In fact, choosing an alternative option may actually speak to the deceased’s personality or beliefs. But if you’re concerned about the aesthetics of using a basic coffin or something less traditional, you can use a pall or a flag to cover the coffin. The crematoria may be able to help with this and some offer reusable coffin covers. As perhaps the only exception to the code of conduct noted above, a pall or cover is typically removed prior to loading into the cremator. This is so that the required checks can be conducted to confirm the identity of the deceased before cremation.
So, the simple answer is no, you don’t have to have a traditional coffin for a cremation, but as ever, it’s always best to speak to your funeral director or the crematoria if you’d like to consider an alternative, just to make sure it works for all concerned.