Go Green to the Grave

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Now, even the dead can do one last thing to reduce their ecological footprint.

A bio-degradable, non-toxic casket designed by New Zealand designer Greg Holdsworth premieres today at the opening of "Why Design Now," the fourth installment of Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Triennial Series, offering a new way for the environmentally-conscious to reduce the excess material their traditional caskets often leave in the ground.

The show, which runs at the New York City museum until January 9, 2011, explores creations of designers, artists, architects and other inventors that "address human and environmental problems." With his casket, Greg Holdsworth offers an earth-friendly, and less expensive, way to lay loved ones to rest. Traditional coffins use metal or rare wood that is otherwise precious and needed in many communities, and some are made with artificial wood grains or PVC. These plastics and woods can release toxins, Holdsworth said in his artist statement.

The "Return to Sender Artisan Eco-Casket" is made of real plywood, with low sides so the body can lie naturally, instead of requiring viewers to "peer down" into a deep box (which is larger, and therefore more wasteful, than the space a body actually needs.) A wool fleece mattress protects the body from the bottom of the casket, and the handles are built into the side of its plywood base.

Holdsworth wrote that the casket is “an elegant, eco-iconic form that honors the deceased and allows their final footprint to be a small one.”

To see more, visit the exhibit's website—or visit in person. (You won't be allowed to test the comfort of the coffin while there, but you can buy one of the coffins from the artist himself.)

"Why Design Now" runs through January 9, 2011 at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street New York, NY 10128.

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