A "grave" situation

Presenting the Cardboard Coffin: the ultimate synthesis of Venezuela's worst problems — a collapsed health care system, violence, and pervasive shortages.

In Venezuela today there are two certain things: death and shortages. But not even the first one can save you from the second one: there aren’t enough coffins to keep up with demand and the funeral sector is in crisis. One new twist to the way-too-common story of shortages of basic goods and skyrocketing prices.

Over at Notiminuto they went to the last General Assembly of the National Chamber of Funerary Services (Canadefu) to talk to the people in the field:

“The situation has gotten worse since February. We should receive over 400 tonnes of steel sheets every month and it’s been close to a month and a half since we received any. The inventory is getting smaller but it more or less keeps on working because the manufacturers buy the sheets at very high prices,” said Tomás Rodríguez, the President of Canadefu. He also said that an urn costs between 75,000 and 80,000 bolivars, and the complete funerary service now costs 200,000 bolivars.

Funeral expenses are something we don’t talk about much; it feels weirded out putting a price on our last goodbye. But in the context of the Venezuelan economy, the medical crisis and high crime rates this is a serious social issue and another blow to families’ economy.

Some companies have decided to make less elaborate coffins, using no steel and lower quality wood products to alleviate shortages and offer cheaper options. But it doesn’t stop there:

Another material is now being used given the crisis: corrugated cardboard. This coffin, according to its manufacturers, obeys all (but one) health regulations and has the necessary resistance.

Elio Angulo, the director of the company that makes this coffin, explained that it is already used in other countries like Colombia, Argentina, Perú and Spain. The biocoffin is made with triple layer corrugated cardboard and reinforced with five sheets. It has a resistance of 130 kg and it has a slightly plastified paper that insulates the cardboard from any liquid.

Go ahead and watch the video for a demonstration of how it looks and how it can actually carry a person. Don’t worry, they use a live model! According to the regulations it can’t be used for burial, but it can be used for transportation, from a funeral home to a crematorium for example.

“If it was used for burials the moisture would tear it apart very quickly, leaving the body exposed, it would be like just putting a body in the ground and covering it with earth” said Gerardo Arias, the Chamber’s director in the video interview.

Hey, I’m all for products that reduce our environmental impact and it’s true biodegradable coffins are becoming more popular, but it’s one thing to do it as a personal choice and another to be forced to use a cardboard box as a coffin because that’s all that’s available.

Or maybe it’s just one more reason why Caracas is becoming a hipster town.