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ARC Home > News and Resources > News archive:

South African newspaper hails success of Eco-Coffin project

December 10, 2011:

Workers in KwaZulu Natal use wood from forest clearance programmes to make affordable coffins.

A report in Johannesburg-based newspaper The Citizen has praised the achievements of the EcoCoffin Project in KwaZulu-Natal, supported by ARC since it started in 2005.

The report in the South African newspaper, 'Green way to go helps families and the planet', was written by Candice Jansen, media officer for the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, and notes that the project's workshops are now producing 70 coffins a day, with over 8,000 already having been made. These plain wooden coffins and caskets cost a fraction of the price of the commercially produced equivalent thus making them affordably available to poorer people.

The simple type of coffin chosen by former South African Government minister Mr Kader Asmel
In a country where the annual death toll from AIDS is now around 400,000 the unregulated funeral industry can often bankrupt poor families trying to ensure a dignified farewell for their loved one. The Citizen's report notes that eco-coffins 'are an innovative way to break the culture of extravagant funerals' and cites the example of Kader Asmel, a former ANC Government minister and close associate of Nelson Mandela, who had a simple funeral with an eco-coffin after passing away in the summer of 2011.

The products are called 'eco-coffins' because the wood used to make them is entirely derived from invasive alien tree species needing to be cleared to prevent soil degradation and protect the water table in the province. By using this waste wood constructively the cost of training and employing people for the highly necessary clearance programme is offset, while more unemployed people have been taken on and trained to work in the production side as well.

The EcoCoffin Programme was started as part of the South African 'Working for Water' programme to assist the families of workers killed in accidents while working for the programme. A meeting between 'Working for Water' leader Dr Guy Preston and ARC Secretary-General Martin Palmer at a World Bank function led to a bigger business plan and the winning of grant aid from the World Bank as part of their 2005 Development Marketplace Award for Innovation. The project also went on to receive a Star Award in the 2008 Impulelelo Innovations Awards.

While initially working to the brief of using the waste wood to provide affordable coffins for KwaZulu Natal province The Citizen report notes that, over time, the EcoCoffin Project has diversified, responding to demand for coffins from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even the UK, while a school desk project in Durban and a church furniture project have also evolved to make use of wood from the clearance programmes.

Useful links

Read Candice Jansen's column in 'The Citizen' here

Link here for information on Eco-Coffins project

Link here for the Eco-Coffins brochure

Link here for more on Mr Kader Asmal

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Related pages

Eco-coffins in South Africa
ARC is assisting an exciting new initiative to make coffins out of invasive tree species, and provide them at low cost to poor communities
Faiths for Green Africa
We are working with more than 25 Christian, Muslim and Hindu faith partners in Africa.
July 8, 2011:
Prominent South African politician buried in an eco-coffin
Popular human rights activist, former minister, founder of anti-aparteheid organisations, the high profile Professor Kader Asmal chose to be buried in an eco-coffin, built under the auspices of a project ARC helped start in 2005.