Nylon and Polyester are brand names given to synthetic or man-made cloth and are all forms of plastic or synthetic fibre. Most coffin frills and gowns and made from this material. Taffeta and satin refer to the weave and sheen. They are not descriptions of what they are made from and are generally available in either synthetic or natural fibres.
For example, Silk fibre or nylon can be used to make Satin.
Nylon was invented in the 1930’s by Wallace Hume Carothers and manufactured in the U.S.A. successfully by DuPont. Silk, which was expensive by comparison, was used for many fabrics – notably for making ladies stockings. During WWII it is well-known story that the American Soldiers would win ladies’ hearts by gifting silk stockings. The gift was flattering and generous since they were unavailable in war-torn Britain. However, what they offered was not the silk stocking which was still the custom in Britain, but the new and cheaper DuPont Nylon stockings (nylons)! Their charm seemed to pay off and the rest is history!
Lots of garments made from silk, cotton and wool were replaced with the new cheaper man-made plastic fabrics. After WWII the Funeral Trade was no different since shrouds once made using wool, cotton and silk were replaced with those made from nylon and polyester.
In line with public opinion and the proposed legislation, it will be necessary, once again, for the Funeral Trade to move with the times. Perhaps in this instance it does not need to re-invent or innovate but can simply look to the past and, reintroduce the offer of coffin interiors made from natural fibres.
In my opinion, this change may be necessary to avoid being out of touch with public concern and its desire to reduce plastic. However, like all topics, it is not so simple. All the alternatives – cotton, wool and silk need to be farmed, fertilised, watered, transported and processed or weaved. All these activities have a significant Carbon Footprint which many argue equates to that of Nylon and Polyester.
Plastics in Cremation
All plastics are some form or hydrocarbons and are organic molecular structures always containing Hydrogen and Carbon. The molecules are complex and contain other elements, notably Nitrogen.
Burning Nylon C12H22N2O2 or Polyester C27H38O14 emits Carbon Dioxide CO2, Water H2O Carbon Monoxide CO and Nitrogen Oxides NO and Hydrogen Cyanide HCN all climate-changing gases.
In my opinion, outcomes will be driven by perception. Public opinion is being groomed to find an alternative to plastic and legislation is proposed to tax end-of -use plastic. Many read the headlines without considering all the factors.
For example, most of the media completely missed the fact that specialist plastic wrapping used in food retail is designed foremost to reduce food waste, a good strategic environmental outcome.
Plastics in Burial
Cremfilm, polypropylene and polyester are not biodegradable. They will stay in the ground for thousands of years. They won’t harm or contaminate the ground but neither will they decompose. The perception of the coffin and person returning to nature is a popular but romantic notion.
A person and coffin are buried at a significant depth. There are no roots from trees at this depth, nor worms. Decomposition is slow in the absence of oxygen anaerobically, with methane emissions over a long period of time and the plastic will simply remain. Does this matter, given that the grave is unlikely to be disturbed?
Again, the dominant factor will be perception, since plastics are not conducive to the ideal of
1. A selection of natural wood coffins with wooden handles.
2. A range of cotton interiors as an option.
3. Stop using” Cremfilm” and use a biodegradable ASAP sheet or similar as an alternative.
4. Update your Environmental Policy.
5. Request your supplier to reduce the use of plastic wrapping / bubblewrap etc.
6. Recycle all the plastic you receive.