Even those who choose to use eco-friendly funeral services may worry about the repercussions of not following Chinese traditions.
Leung Tin-ying, who is in her 60s, chose Green Life Passage as the undertakers for her mother’s funeral. “I also experienced some internal conflict at first,” she says. Unsure of whether her father and other relatives would support the move, she decided to take things step by step.
First, Leung collected information from both traditional funeral homes and Green Life Passage. Only when she was sure her father did not oppose the idea of a green funeral, did she go ahead with using Green Life.
To avoid disputes over how a funeral should be held, Catherine Hung Hing-ling, chairperson of Club-O, an organisation promoting green living attitudes, suggests the elderly should write down their expectations for their own funeral. Green Life Passage also provides a simple form for elderly people to fill in their wishes.
By making their wishes known while they are alive, people can save their loved ones from anxious second-guessing and uncertainty.
“If you love a person, you should not just express your care after they pass away,” says Hung. When she sees people spending a lot of money to make a funeral look “good”, Hung questions whether the rite is being observed for the living or for the deceased. “[The value] has changed. Now ‘wasting’ is important, it is done for show, to put people at ease.”
Religious belief is another deciding factor in how a funeral is conducted. In Hong Kong, practices from the main religions, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, are commonly incorporated into the funeral setting.
Among these, Taoist and Buddhist funerals involve relatively more rituals and offerings, and cost around HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 more than Christian and Catholic funerals. Followers of Buddhist and Taoist practices generally find it harder to forego traditional funerary rites and adopt green funeral arrangements.
Another challenge to green funerals comes from the established business practices of funeral parlours providing one-stop services. These will arrange everything – from the coffin to the hall for the ceremony and the disposal of ashes.
Yet, most funeral parlours will not offer a greener approach unless a customer specifically asks for it. When Angela Siu sought help from the undertaker, he simply gave her a price list, showing her the prices of funeral services based on different religions and the scale of the funeral. “They do not have other options for you, not even one involving a green funeral,” Siu says. “I did not even have a chance to consider it.”
Kitty Yeung Kit-ling, who organised a Buddhist funeral for her mother, agrees with Siu that there is a lack of options for green funerals. She observes the mass media and funeral homes have done little to promote green funerals and paper coffins.
Varsity called seven major funeral parlours in Hong Kong to inquire about funeral packages. At first, none of them mentioned green funeral packages. When asked if there was a greener option, six of them offered the eco-coffin. The price of eco-coffins, however, was more expensive than ordinary coffins in three of the funeral parlours. One funeral parlour, Po Fook Memorial Hall did not offer an eco-coffin even when asked.
On paper, the government supports the development of green funerals. In 2008, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) imposed an additional licensing condition on all newly issued and renewed Undertakers of Burials Licenses, requiring holders to provide eco-coffins as an option.