Amid Covid-19 surge, some Sri Lankans opt for cardboard coffins when cremating loved ones

Wooden coffins at a workshop in Sri Lankan city Panadura. Cardboard coffins can cost just a sixth of the cheapest wooden one.
Wooden coffins at a workshop in Sri Lankan city Panadura. Cardboard coffins can cost just a sixth of the cheapest wooden one.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - At a factory in Sri Lanka's Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia city, workers use staples and glue to assemble long cardboard boxes that will be used as coffins for some of the country's coronavirus victims.

The coffins are made out of recycled paper and costs a sixth of the cheapest wooden casket, according to Mr Priyantha Sahabandu, the local government official who first came up with the idea.

As Sri Lanka's death toll from Covid-19 surges, some are opting for these cardboard coffins when they cremate their loved ones. The country recorded its highest daily death toll of 198 last Friday (Aug 20), with total fatalities reaching 7,560.

Currently, about 400 people die per day on average in Sri Lanka of various causes, including Covid-19, said Mr Sahabandu, 51, a member of the municipal council for Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, a city in Colombo district.

"To make 400 coffins you have to cut some 250 to 300 trees. To prevent that environmental destruction, I proposed this concept to the health committee of the council," he said.

"With the spread of the coronavirus, people found it difficult to pay for expensive wooden coffins." 

Each coffin costs around 4,500 Sri Lankan rupees (S$31), compared with 30,000 rupees for a cheap wooden coffin, Mr Sahabandu said. It can hold up to 100kg.

The coffins were initially used mostly for Covid-19 victims, but have become more popular among those concerned about the environment.

Some 350 cardboard coffins have been delivered since early 2020, and the factory is working on another 150 ordered by the council.

"The majority of the people in the country support this. The issue today is supplying it. We are working on that," Mr Sahabandu said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a total lockdown last Friday for 10 days to curb a renewed surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.