Coffins Can’t Be Reused, the Truth and the Myth

When choosing a casket for your loved one, you don’t want to consider the possibility that it may have been used by someone else. After all, for many people, the casket represents their final resting place.

Coffin reuse is very rare, and is only done with the permission of the family of the deceased. The actual inner lining that holds the body is never reused.

However, it is sometimes possible to reuse the outer casket , rental casket, or casket cover as they are used in funerals and not for burials  


Rental Caskets

Rental caskets are fancy caskets you can rent for a funeral or viewing. The rental casket has a fine external finish, but is empty on the inside. The foot of the rental casket swings open, and a simple casket with an internal lining can be slid inside.

Rental caskets allow the family of the deceased to have a nice coffin for the funeral at a discounted rate. They are then removed before the burial or cremation, and can be reused for subsequent funerals.

Rental caskets can be reused because the rental casket does not come in contact with any part of the deceased. If the lining of the simple, internal casket malfunctions and any portion of the rental casket come into contact with the body of the deceased, then that part of the rental casket must be disposed of and replaced.


Coffin Covers

Coffin covers are expensively-finished wooden frames that can sit on top of a simple coffin to give it a more elegant air. Coffin covers are typically used when a coffin will be cremated, but the family still wants a formal viewing.

Coffin covers are not very popular in the United States, and not many funeral homes provide them. Therefore, if you are interested in utilizing a coffin cover for your funeral, it is important that you discuss the possibility with potential funeral homes prior to choosing one.


Top Reasons Coffins are Not Reused

While it seems economical and environmentally-friendly to reuse coffins, they are typically not reused for a number of reasons, including:


1. Most Coffins Are Part of the Final Resting Place

Coffins are typically an intrinsic part of the final resting place of the deceased. If the deceased is buried, they are buried in their coffin. If the deceased is cremated, the coffin is burned along with the body.

Given the burial or cremation of the coffin, it is not possible for the coffins to be reused. For more information about why coffins are used in burial and cremation, see The 5 Reasons We Use Coffins.


2. Health and Hygiene

If a person dies of a communicable disease or infection, the use of a coffin can reduce the chance of others contracting the illness. They serve as an extra layer of protection for people preparing the body and performing the funeral rites.

In addition, as a body decomposes, it produces byproducts and bacteria that can be harmful to humans, messy, and pungent. It is therefore considered best practice to thoroughly clean and decontaminate anything that comes in contact with the deceased.

Because coffins are inlayed with light-colored fabrics, it is not possible to thoroughly clean them between uses. As such, most states have laws that require any part of the coffin that comes into contact with the deceased to be disposed of.

This means that if you get a coffin for the funeral but intend to use a different receptacle for burial or cremation, the coffin from the funeral still must be disposed of.


3. Emotional Reasons

We tend to refer to burial as someone’s “final resting place.” This terminology can help us to find comfort as we grieve. A casket that is beautifully made and lined with soft fabric helps create the impression of a peaceful resting place for our loved ones.

The idea of burying a loved one in their own comfortable coffin tends to feel far more respectful than placing them in a receptacle that is being reused.


Benefits of Rental Caskets and Coffin Covers

Rental caskets and coffin covers are becoming more popular for the following reasons:


1. More Affordable

Coffins designed for burial in the United States cost an average of $2,000-$5,000, with specialized coffins costing as much as $45,000.

If you are choosing cremation, you can purchase a cremation casket (a very simple wooden casket) for $700-$1,500. The cremation casket typically has a very unfinished look, as it is not meant for funerals or viewings. They are made of unfinished wood, cardboard, fiberboard, or composition materials.

Luckily, if you purchase the cremation casket, many funeral homes will include the rental casket in the price. This means that you will get the cremation casket, along with the nicer outer casket, for less than half of the cost of a traditional casket.


2. More Eco-Friendly

Most caskets are made of hard woods or metals, all of which are either buried or cremated with the body. According to the Green Burial Council, each year cemeteries in the United States place over four million gallons of embalming fluid, 1.6 million tons of concrete, and 64,000 tons of steel into the ground.

Traditional burial has proven to be a less-than-sustainable solution as deforestation and metal shortages continue to rise.

However, with a rental casket or casket cover, the amount of material lost in the burial or cremation is greatly reduced. Additionally, the material that is used is typically a less expensive, more sustainable option.


3. Increased Popularity of Cremations and Green Burials

According to the 2019 NFDA Cremation & Burial Report, cremation is now more widely utilized than traditional burial in the United States. A 2019 survey completed by the Funeral Directors’ Association found that 52% of Americans expressed interest in green burial options.

As cremations and green burials become more popular, the need for traditional burial coffins continues to shrink. However, the numeral of funerals is remaining constant, indicating that the demand for rental coffins and coffin covers will likely increase. 


Alternatives to Rental Caskets and Casket Covers

If you still aren’t sure you want a rental casket, but you are looking to complete your funeral economically and environmentally, there are some alternative options that you may want to consider:


1 Recycled Wood Coffin: If you want to have a traditional casket on a budget, recycled wood can be a fantastic alternative to traditional caskets. Most recycled wood caskets are even green-certified. Some companies also sell recycled wood caskets in pieces that you can put together yourself for a fraction of the price.  


2. Cardboard Coffin: Don’t worry- this isn’t as strange as it sounds. A cardboard coffin is far nicer than an Amazon box. Cardboard coffins are gaining popularity with cremations because they are extremely sturdy, economical, and better for the environment.

Cardboard coffins can also be customized with printed designs or names, making them easy to personalize for the deceased. You can use a cardboard coffin on its own or with a rental casket.


3. Wicker Coffin: Wicker coffins are one of the most environmentally-friendly options for cremation, as wicker is a carbon-neutral substance. This means that it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide when burned that it absorbed when alive.

Wicker coffins have a unique appearance, as they are woven together similar to wicker furniture. While they tend to be more expensive than cardboard or recycled wood coffins (they start at approximately $1,200), they are still less expensive than many traditional coffins.


What Happens to the Coffin During a Cremation?

Once a coffin is checked in with the crematorium, the name plate and body identification are confirmed. The coffin, along with everything inside, is then placed directly into the coffin. The coffin is burned along with the body. Crematoriums are only big enough for one coffin at a time to ensure all ashes are properly identified following the cremation.

Sometimes, depending on the type of coffin chosen for the cremation, the handles and fittings will be removed prior to cremation because of the adverse effects of their chemical composition when cremated. Any fittings that are removed are destroyed or recycled.


What Happens to the Coffin During a Burial?

In most states, a body must be buried in some sort of receptacle. It is most common for the deceased to be buried in a casket or coffin (see the difference below). The body will be placed in the casket for the funeral or viewing, and then buried in the same receptacle.

However, green burials are becoming more popular in the United States. In green burials, the deceased is buried in an eco-friendly decomposable container. If the family of the deceased wants to have the viewing in a casket but they do not want the casket to be included in the burial, they can either get a rental casket, as discussed above, or dispose of the casket separately. Once a casket comes into contact with a body, it cannot be reused.


Coffins vs. Caskets

In most of the world, the term “coffin” is used to reference a burial container, while “casket” is used to refer to a small container to hold jewelry and other precious items. However, in the United States, the funeral industry began using the word “casket” to make conversations about burial containers seem less bleak.

Today, the funeral industry in the United States uses the words “coffin” and “casket” almost interchangeably. However, they are technically two separate burial containers:

  • Coffins: Coffins are six-sided burial containers. They are six-sided to allow them to be widest at the shoulders and then taper towards the feet to reflect the shape of the person buried inside.
  • Caskets: Caskets are rectangular, four-sided burial containers. Caskets are the more common burial container in the United States and are typically considered a more modern option.

Coffins and caskets are typically made of wood, metal, or particle board. The interior is lined with cloth, and has a built-in pillow for the head of the deceased.


Final Thoughts

While rental coffins and coffin covers exist, the portion of the coffin used by the deceased is never reused. As such, when you choose a coffin for your loved one, it will be theirs and theirs alone.


Writer: Taylor Steed

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