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Photo from Hong Kong government

Niche crisis pushes Hong Kong towards green burials

Companies may offer boat trips for scattering ashes as interest in green burials rises.

In Hong Kong, the competition for space extends beyond the living to the deceased. It’s been hardly discussed, but there is a critical shortage of niches.

The government, though, has put a positive spin on the situation by promoting green burials, raising hopes for a very acceptable solution for modern residents.

Under a green burial, cremated ashes are scattered in designated waters or in Gardens of Remembrance (GoRs). There are 13 GoRs under the management of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

By 2025, Hong Kong will see an additional GoR in the Shek Mun Columbarium in Sha Tin.

Data from the FEHD shows that since 2013, green burials have become increasingly popular amongst Hong Kong residents, with the number of cases rising from 3,400 to 9,400 by 2023. In that year, green burials accounted for 16.5% of all deaths.

Key players in the field have embraced this more sustainable approach to burial. Amongst those that have implemented green burial facilities are cemeteries managed by The Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries, The Hong Kong Chinese Christian Churches Union, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association.

Notable examples include Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery, Pokfulam Chinese Christian Cemetery, and Hong Kong Buddhist Cemetery in Cape Collinson.

The Diocesan Board of Catholic Cemeteries initiated its “Burial of Cremated Ashes” program in the Garden of Remembrance at St. Raphael’s Catholic Cemetery on May 1. Meanwhile, the Tao Fong Shan Service Unit is actively planning to construct green burial facilities at its cemetery.

The government is also encouraging private entities to support green burial practices by offering services or related products, such as private boat or vessel trips for scattering ashes in one of the three designated waters.

FEHD also suggested that companies in the sector develop innovative devices for scattering ashes in Gardens of Remembrance or at sea. Additionally, companies can support the initiative by creating commemorative keepsakes, transforming small amounts of ashes into items such as crystals, diamonds, gemstones, or photo frames.

Traditional vs green

Comparing green burials against traditional burials, the FEHD noted that the former incurs relatively lower costs and offers a simpler and faster application process.

Alan Leung, director of Hong Kong Funeral Logistics, echoed this, saying the cost of a green burial will only be around US$2,300 (HK$17,933) more or less.

Leung said many Hong Kongers are also opting for green burials for financial reasons.

Green burials also allow the remains of humans to “return to nature,” which Leung said hold a “significant meaning.”

“[It] establishes a permanent connection with the natural world at the final moment of life, leaving behind a better world for future generations,” the FEHD told Hong Kong Business.

Hong Kong’s green burials, however, are not just scattering of ashes. It encompasses the use of eco-coffins and opting for simple and environmentally friendly funerals in hospitals.

Leung said eco-coffins use pure wood, instead of metal, glass or PVC plastic. Having eco-coffins is now part of the criteria for licensing in Hong Kong, he added.

Meanwhile, the FEHD said the living may also opt for using fresh flowers as offerings instead of burning joss paper, during ancestral worship practices, engaging in electronic worship, and offering digital offerings to make burials more sustainable.

The FEHD said the promotion of green burial will help support the sustainable development of Hong Kong in the long run as “land resources that demand burial facilities could be released for other purposes.”

Leung believes that the adoption of green burials will even grow in Hong Kong, saying that it may soon account for up to 20% of deaths in the city in a couple of years.

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