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To Die For: Rolls-Royce and 'green' Coffins at British Funerals

Coffins shaped like a Rolls-Royce, a guitar or a ballet shoe are booming in Britain, where the latest unusual trend in funerals is for "green" burials, kind to the environment . Since 2000, Vic Fearn and Company have been making offbeat caskets which it markets under the title "Crazy Coffins".

The firm recently expanded their range to include illustrated ones. "We didn't invent anything, the demand came from the clients," said John Gill, head of the Nottingham, central England-based company, which has been in business for 130 years. "Our first 'Crazy Coffin' was an airplane. Since then, we build one a month.

We have lots of enquiries but it's quite expensive and building one takes some time," he told AFP. Because of their dimensions, the coffins need a double plot at cemeteries, making religious ceremonies more expensive. The firm's last creation was a Rolls-Royce coffin which took two weeks of round-the-clock work to make, and cost 40,000 pounds (59,000 euros, 79,000 dollars).

A casket shaped like an electric guitar made in 2004 cost the same. Vic Fearn have made a wooden egg for a woman who wanted to be buried in the foetal position, a ballet pump for a ballerina, a kite, a barge for the bodies of a couple, a skate-board and even two dumpsters. "We never refuse anything," said Gill, whose company makes around 15,000 coffins a year and has a turnover of 1.5 million pounds.

Those who want a touch of originality without going too far can also opt for a classic coffin painted with personalised illustrations. Vic Fearn makes around 100 such caskets per year, at a price of around 250 pounds each, featuring illustrations of motorcycles or animals, or even decked out in the colours of the deceased's favourite football team. These coffins can be prepared within 48 hours and are hand-painted with environmentally-friendly paint, reflecting the growing preoccupation with ensuring that funerals do not damage the environment.

"There is a rising popularity of non-traditional funerals, especially those with environmental components," said a spokesman for market researchers Mintel, adding that 63 percent are in favour of green coffins and 64 percent support green funerals.

According to the Natural Death Centre in London, which helps people planning green funerals, the number of environmentally-friendly cemeteries has doubled to 223 since 2000. At such cemeteries, gravestones are replaced by plants or burial in a forest. Nearly 9,000 people are buried in this way every year, a figure which should top 20,000 by 2010, Mike Jarvis, the centre's director, said. He added that about 4,000 people a week choose a biodegradable coffin.

There is a good choice of such caskets in Britain -- one firm, Eco Coffins, offers ones made up of 90 percent recycled cardboard, while Bamboo Coffins sells woven bamboo caskets. In 2006, Ecopod sold around 500 of its creations, made from 100 percent reinforced recycled paper.

Founder Hazel Selina said annual sales were rising by 10 percent a year and that the company planned to expand in the US, Canada and Europe at the end of the year. Recycled coffins have the advantage of being light. Of the 600,000 funerals in Britain each year, 75 percent feature cremations and 25 percent burials. And now even funeral urns are going "green" -- for example, Ecopod say their urn in the shape of an acorn is selling by the thousands.


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