29 novembre 2022
Ecological burials gain popularity in France in face of tradition
Eco-friendly alternatives such as cardboard coffins had been
slow to take off in France, where Catholic values have traditionally
shaped funeral rites.
By Theo Larcher
Grievers are increasingly turning to eco-friendly burials, despite
France remaining far behind most western countries in adapting its
The slow take-off can be explained by the power of ingrained
Catholic values and also of funeral lobbyists.
More than 269,000 people were cremated in France in 2020, accounting
for 40% of all deaths.
The figure has been increasing constantly since 1975, according to
figures from the Association Française d’Information Funéraire
It is far below countries such as the UK (76% in 2018), Sweden (80%)
or Japan (99.9%).
It is, however, higher than other countries where Catholicism
dominates, such as Italy (20%), Poland (11%) and Brazil (4.5%).
The industry has also expanded its range of materials used for
coffins to include, for example, cardboard, which is less expensive
and more respectful of the environment.
Push for France to allow more ‘natural’ burial methods
Some associations are pushing for France to allow more ‘natural’
burial methods, such as human composting.
AFIF president Michel Kawnik said: “There is a growing interest in
departing life while being respectful of nature, fitting with
evolving mind-sets in terms of the dematerialisation of
The association publishes information on its website in French,
English and German.
“The trend has been around for 20 years,” he added, saying lobbies
of the funeral industry have been actively undermining any change
that would include more ecological solutions, as this would harm
The lobbying is particularly intense against coffins made of
cardboard, a new material that is attracting interest in France.
Cardboard coffins: ‘The population is not informed’
Agnès Dione, president of the Association Cercueil Ecologique en
Cellulose, who sells cardboard coffins, said: “The population is not
“The information gets lost along the way, somehow.”
She said sales have been plateauing for years at only two coffins a
month and she experiences difficulties explaining the advantages to
Both Ms Dione and Mr Kawnik explained to The Connexion some
of the false information circulated by lobbyists to denigrate
Arguments include cardboard being more pricey, clogging filters
during cremation, consuming more gas, or being less biodegradable
The opposite to every argument is true: cardboard is a third to a
quarter as expensive, and requires less than 90 minutes, – an hour
less than wooden coffins, on average – during the cremation
“If I were to cut down a tree, I would turn it into furniture,
rather than a coffin,” said Mr Kawnik.
Biodegradable mushroom coffins
Countries such as Poland, Sweden and the UK have extended even more
to include felt, wicker or even biodegradable mushrooms for
Other techniques have been explored, such as cryomation, where the
deceased is plunged in liquid nitrogen and frozen to -196C,
aquamation, which uses water rather than fire (chosen recently by
Desmond Tutu), or humusation.
Humusation refers to the natural process of a body turning into
humus – a component of soil – and involves the burial of a body two
metres into the ground among wood shavings and mud, where it is
transformed by micro-organisms.
It does not include embalming, nor the use of a coffin.
The phenomenon is gaining ground, particularly as California will
become the fifth American state to allow human composting from 2027.
Turn the body into natural compost
It is the only burial technique able to turn the body into natural
compost in 12 months, argued Francis Busigny, president of
Métamorphose, mourir puis donner la Vie, a Belgian foundation which
is vocal about promoting the concept.
“Nothing helps the grieving process more than a growing tree,” he
said. It is currently illegal to be buried without a coffin in
Funeral services in France cost around €3,350, while cremation costs
€3,609 on average, according to figures from insurance company
This does not include the cost of a cemetery plot and depends on a
variety of other services and optional extras.
Coffins range from €650 to €3,800, funeral transportation from €250
to €450, and funeral urns from €70 to €380, according to Funecap, a
French funerals company.
An forthcoming eco-friendly innovation will see the village of
Muttersholtz, in Alsace, inaugurate a memorial forest next year.
This is inspired by similar sites in Germany, where urns can be
buried at the base of trees.