The Problem: Embalming and burying humans, and animals for that matter, in environmentally unfriendly coffins like metal or treated wood do unnecessary damage to the planet and go against the natural order of biodegradation.
The Idea: Coffins should be primarily made of materials that biodegrade at roughly the same rate as the body inside. Replacing treated woods with high-density compressed paper products or untreated natural woods would be a good start. Using non-toxic biodegradable colorants and finishing’s (hinges, ornaments, etc…) as well would be the ultimate goal. Likewise for linings, padding’s and other internal fixtures, using natural cottons and silks as opposed to synthetic nylon and polyester fabrics would further contribute to a healthier planet.
There are certainly options like this available, but I would urge that this be more mandated than recommended for any below-ground burial. Above-ground burials and cremations I have no strong opinion about, other than I do not want to be laid to rest in either way. I have every confidence that clever craftspeople and artisans could create respectful and practical coffins without wrapping the whole thing in metal or plastic.
A friend noted that many cemeteries offer burials using only a shroud, which is a nice offering, but may be challenging for on-lookers to see the shrouded body of the decedent. I propose that the biodegradable coffin is a healthy compromise between the two.