Cremation or burial? If you’re struggling to decide, don’t worry. Our handy comprehensive guide is here to talk you through all the standard cremation vs. burial pros and cons. Is cremation more expensive than burial? Which is more eco-friendly, or flexible? And what about religion? Let’s take a look!

Did you know? Over 75% of UK funerals involve cremation, one of the highest percentages in Europe.


Which is cheaper, cremation or burial?

There is a big cost difference between cremation and burial. A traditional funeral with a cremation costs £3,596 on average, while a funeral with a burial costs £4,561.

The price of a cremation vs. a burial is even more manageable if you choose to arrange a ‘direct’ cremation without a funeral service. This can be as little as £1,195 if you go with Beyond.

One thing that can make cremation more expensive, however, is what you decide to do with the ashes after the cremation. While burying ashes in a cemetery gives you a special place to visit, it can cost upwards of £400 on top of the cost above – whereas scattering ashes usually won’t cost you a thing.


Which is better for the environment, cremation or burial?

This one is trickier to answer because of the many, many factors involved. How far do the mourners have to drive to get to the burial plot vs. the crematorium? How many are attending? How far did the flowers have to travel, what is the coffin made of and what is your loved one wearing?

All these things add up, and can eventually outweigh the environmental impact of whether you choose a burial or cremation. Plus, both options have drawbacks:

  • Fuel use. According to the Guardian, one cremation will use up about 285 kiloWatt hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity on average. That’s about as much energy as a single person uses in the house over the course of a month.
  • Land use. The main reason for the popularity of cremation, and for the difference in the cost of cremation vs. burial, is that burial space is limited. A 2013 survey indicated that over half of all UK cemeteries could run out of room within the next 20 years.
  • Mercury emissions. During cremation, mercury in dental fillings can be released into the air. In 2005, cremation was responsible for 16% of all UK mercury emissions. Many crematoria have since added special filters to limit emissions, but some are better than others.
  • Formaldehyde use. Toxic and carcinogenic, formaldehyde is used for embalming and in veneered chipboard coffins, which account for 89% of all coffins bought in the UK. Burial carries the risk that this formaldehyde will seep into groundwater.

So, is it better to be cremated or buried? At the moment, the consensus seems to be that the most environmentally friendly option is burial at a natural burial ground.

Here, bodies are never embalmed, and biodegradable coffins and burial shrouds are a must. Shallower graves, without grave markers, mean that bodies decompose faster and the natural landscape is minimally disturbed. Native trees and wildflowers are often planted over graves.

Natural burial can also be less expensive than traditional burial – an added bonus.


Is cremation or burial more flexible?

Cremation is more flexible by far, letting you choose whether to have a service at the crematorium or later on with the ashes. This can be helpful if you need more time to make arrangements or gather distant family members.

You also have a lot of options when it comes to the ashes. You can scatter them in a favourite spot, bury them, wear them in jewellery, put them in fireworks (or diamonds, or teddy bears, or coral reefs, or balloons … ) or even some combination of all the above.

Ashes can also be shared between family members, which is useful if you all live far apart and won’t be able to easily visit the same cemetery.


How do different religions feel about cremation vs. burial?

Specific groups within the main religions often have their own thoughts on whether cremation or burial is better, but we have a general guide here:

Hinduism: Hindus are usually cremated, as they believe that it helps the soul escape quickly from the body. Some families take the ashes to India to scatter them in the Ganges, while others will scatter them in a local river or the sea.

Sikhism: Cremation is generally preferred, but burial is considered fine when cremation isn’t possible.

Buddhism: Buddhists can choose cremation or burial. Cremation is more common, however, as it is believed that Gautama Buddha was cremated.

Christianity: Most Christian groups support cremation and burial equally, with a few exceptions. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Church forbids cremation. The Catholic Church does not, but the ashes need to be buried or stored in a sacred place.

Judaism: Jewish law asks that bodies be washed, dressed in the proper clothing and buried (not cremated) as soon as possible. Despite this, a small number of Jewish people choose to be cremated.

Islam: Cremation is forbidden in Islam, as Muslims believe that the body should be honoured and respected as it was in life. Muslims are also prohibited from observing or aiding a cremation.

Instead, the body is washed, wrapped in a plain shroud, and prayed over before burial, ideally within 24 hours of the death.


A final thought on the burial vs. cremation debate

When it comes down to it, the choice between burial and cremation is a very personal one. Whether you’re arranging a funeral for a loved one who didn’t leave instructions, or just pondering the question for yourself ahead of time, how you feel will be the deciding factor.

If you feel very strongly, you might find it helpful to set out your funeral wishes in a funeral plan.

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