Eco-friendly to the end

She loved nature and the environment. So the last thing she wanted was for any tree to die in her final journey.

When Miss Sylvia Low (above, picture), 49, died last month, her loved ones found just the right thing: An "eco-ffin".

Miss Low's coffin was made of unbleached carton paper for the top and sides, with a base of plywood and particle board to support the weight.

A friend, Miss Serena Lim, 49, recounted how Miss Low was diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2012, shortly before she had her first stroke.

They had met each other 25 years ago at KhattarWong, the first law firm they worked for.

Miss Low, a former lawyer, left the practice in 2000 to join Miss Lim as directors of Bizibody Technology, which provides legal, management and marketing expertise for the global business community.

Miss Lim told The New Paper: "After Sylvia suffered her first stroke, she cherished life even more and had even tried to control her diet. But we would also discuss death and things like coffins.

"She did not feel that it was morbid to talk about it. She felt instead that it would make it easier for the people who are living if we made plans ahead."

On March 11, Miss Low had her second stroke and was in a coma for 10 days.

Miss Lim said: "She went for a CT scan and we were told that her chances of a recovery were slim. Three days after her stroke, I was going through her things and I found out she had signed an Advance Medical Directive (AMD, also known as a living will)."

As they prepared for the worst, Miss Lim searched online to find out more about paper coffins and came across the website of a firm that supplies eco-friendly coffins.

LOOKED LIKE GIFT BOX

Said Miss Lim: "We were told that it would be a closed coffin, but for us, it was fine. Sylvia had also discussed embalming.

"She had said that she did not want her friends and loved ones to remember her last look in an embalmed form."

When the coffin arrived, it looked like "a plain, sad shoe box", said Miss Lim.

But they prepared stationery such as sticky papers, markers and crayons for those bidding Miss Low a final farewell.

She said: "At first, we could see that some were hesitant, but we encouraged everyone. We told them that they could write on the sticky notes, pieces of paper, or even directly on the coffin.

"One by one, people started to do so, and we even had some very elaborate drawings."

To reflect Miss Low's love of nature, some brought flowers to place on her coffin.

Miss Lim said: "We also placed figurines of cats on Sylvia's coffin because she loved them."

She said that about 100 people contributed to the masterpiece.

"There was so much love," she said, "in the end, it looked like a gift box."

Paper coffins rare in Singapore

Despite the significant environmental benefits, eco-coffins are not popular in Singapore.

Six out of eight casket companies told The New Paper that they do not have it.

And Dr Ng Khee Yang, 50, wanted to shut down his firm, TechTent, because of low demand.

TechTent is Singapore's only supplier of eco-friendly coffins. Dr Ng first created caskets made of cardboard, plywood and compressed wood dust or just carton box material, in 2008.

He said: "I have been thinking of closing the company but Sylvia's family told me not to, and said they would try to promote the paper coffins on social media.

"They felt that it was a good concept that should be made known," he said.

Company director Sylvia Low, who died after a stroke last month, was cremated in a paper coffin.

LACK OF AWARENESS

The lightweight caskets burn more quickly than regular coffins and use less fuel.

Dr Ng said that traditional coffins use about 70kg of wood while paper coffins use only 22kg of recycled paper.

Funeral Solutions, which is just one of the few companies here that offers paper coffins, said it gets an average of two orders a year.

Managing director of Funeral Solutions, Mr Nicky Teo, 25, said: "People are not very confident that the coffins are durable enough to hold the deceased's personal belongings. But that's not really a problem.

"There's just a lack of awareness about how durable the cardboard coffin is."

Undertaker Roland Tay said paper coffins are not common in Singapore because of a more traditional mindset.

Some families want to splurge on funeral services and opt for an expensive coffin instead of a paper coffin, which usually costs under $1,000.

But Mr Teo of Funeral Solutions said cost is not really a factor.

He said: "A wooden coffin can cost $700 to $800, so there is not a substantial difference. Those who opt for paper coffins usually do it because they are environmentally conscious."

maureenk@sph.com.sg

regmlee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 19 in The New Paper.Get The New Paper for more stories.