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Coffin-building goes minimalist with trundle idea

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Wooden trays are so useful when you want to transport food and beverages. Apparently they're also pretty handy to cart around a dead body.

The direct-to-the-customer coffin shop, Affordable Coffins & Artery in St. Paul's West Side, recently began offering a new product called a trundle. It's essentially a plain pine tray with rope handles that can be used instead of a coffin to put a body into the grave.

Affordable Coffins, which opened in January 2012, specializes in simple, low-cost wooden coffins made by the owner Mike Zoff, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

The $195 trundle takes Zoff's niche to an even more minimalist direction, designed to appeal to people interested in a green burial.

At least two cemeteries in the metro area, Mound Cemetery of Brooklyn Center and Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens in Inver Grove Heights, are set up for green burials, which mean being put into the ground without embalming or a burial vault with a coffin that has to be biodegradable and free of metal parts.

To make the process more environmental, Mound Cemetery will avoid using gas-powered machinery to fill in and pack down the grave, according to manager Dan Kantar.

"It is a big trend on the East Coast," Kantar said.

At Prairie Oaks Memorial Gardens, you can't be buried in clothing with plastic buttons or metal zippers, according to owner Tony Weber.

"We're just trying to keep the ground uncontaminated," Weber said.

The green burial cemeteries will even allow you to skip the coffin. If you want, you can simply be put in the earth wrapped in a cloth shroud.

But "the trundle works nice, because the body, being very limp, it easily carries the body," Kantar said.

"It's about as basic a vehicle to transport a deceased person," Zoff said.

Zoff said he got the idea of selling trundles when he heard that the lid of one of his coffins was being used in a green burial at Mound Cemetery of a man who was buried wrapped in a blanket with an American Indian pattern.

Zoff said he's sold three trundles so far, one that was used for a burial and two that are stored under the customers' beds, waiting for the day when the need arrives.

Willwerscheid Funeral Home also is starting to promote green burial options out of its West St. Paul location, according to president Stephen Willwerscheid.

But Willwerscheid said, "We are not seeing a huge demand for natural burials."

Willwerscheid said when people think of green funerals, they currently think of cremations. Although green burials are typically cheaper than traditional burials, cremations are cheaper still.

But Zoff hopes that his trundles will appeal to market segments beyond the eco- and cost-conscious. For example, to cater to traditional Islamic burials, he's designed a wooden attachment for his trundles that he likens to the back of a couch. It allows the body to be propped on its side to face Mecca while in the grave.

His regular coffins, which sell for about $450 to $780, continue to find traditional and nonconventional customerrs.

Zoff said an Illinois woman gave one of his coffins to her husband for a Valentine's gift to be used as an accessory for the hearse the husband owns.

Brian Bell also gave his wife a Zoff coffin.

"She didn't take it too good," Bell said. "Whoever went first was going to get buried in it. She said, 'Over my dead body.'"

So the coffin ended up in the restroom of Wildwood Pizza, the Willernie restaurant Bell owns. It is used to store toilet paper and paper towels.

"People know us as the place that has a coffin in the bathroom," Bell said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.