Is it better to be cremated or buried?

Whether you’re planning a funeral for a loved one or specifying funeral wishes for yourself, deciding between cremation or burial is one of the first choices you’ll have to make. Making this choice is entirely personal and can be influenced by previous funerals and experiences, cost, or even environmental impact. To ensure that you’re informed about all of the options available, we’ve created this guide that details the advantages, disadvantages and alternative options to cremation and burial services. 

What happens at a cremation?

At an attended cremation service mourners will arrive at the venue, and may wait outside for the arrival of the hearse or take a seat inside. Before the ceremony begins, the coffin will be placed on top of a raised platform called a catafalque. Usually, decorations, flowers, and images of the deceased may be placed on or around the catafalque or the coffin. The service typically lasts for 30-45 minutes, before the committal begins at which point the coffin is generally obscured from view perhaps by a curtain or by being drawn away out of sight.

There is the option to have a direct cremation, where no service takes place and no friends or family attend the crematorium. Some people prefer this as it means they do not have to face the difficult part of the service where the coffin is removed from sight, and it can be a way to keep costs down when planning a funeral. 

What happens at a burial?

Burial services may follow a similar format to attended cremation services in that hymns, songs, and stories can be shared during the ceremony. However, the committal process differs from that of cremation services as this typically takes place at the graveside when the coffin is lowered into the ground. Mourners may then place soil or flowers on top of the coffin, and pay their final respects before attending the wake or leaving the venue, the ground will then be filled in.

Is cremation or burial more popular in the UK?

In the UK, cremations are more popular than burials. In 2022, over 65% of funerals across the country involved a cremation. These changing attitudes have been influenced by several factors such as lower costs, environmental concerns, a preference for simplified ceremonies, and religious attitudes. 

However, funeral directors will be able to offer you both choices and will talk you through the costs and processes associated with each so that you can make an informed decision on which method is best for you or your loved one. 

Religious attitudes

Choosing whether to be buried or cremated can heavily depend on what you or your loved one’s religion dictates. For example, in the Islamic faith and Judaism, cremation is often prohibited as the body must be buried. Christian denominations and Catholics widely accept both cremation and burial as an option following a religious service, and Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists typically prefer cremation. 

If you’re planning a funeral for a religious person who hasn’t specified their wishes, we would advise consulting with their respective place of worship to help you plan an appropriate service that adheres to their belief system. You may also wish to read our blog which details the different funeral customs so that you can get a better idea of what is expected of a religious service.

Cost of cremation vs burial

Cremation and burial costs can vary greatly depending on the region in which you live and on what is included in your service. In England, the average cost of an attended cremation funeral is £3,795, whereas the average cost for a burial service is £5,077. Direct cremations can also provide a much cheaper service averaging at £939. Ultimately, if you’re looking at the financial aspect of each type of interment, cremation will be the cheaper option of the two. 

Environmental considerations

Environmental impact is something that increasing numbers of people are taking into consideration when choosing funeral options. However, it is difficult to compare the two as there are many things to think about that may affect how environmentally friendly a service is. This includes transport, flowers, the clothing of the deceased, the material used to build the coffin, and energy usage. 

Please be aware that in the next two sections, we will be discussing the harsh practicalities of burials and cremations from the perspective of their environmental impacts. If you’re researching which option is best on behalf of a recently lost loved one, take care and know that, while the realities of how these processes are carried out can be jarring to those who are facing loss, our teams always treat the deceased with the utmost care and respect.

Environmental impact of cremations

Cremations require a high level of heat which can only be achieved by using a lot of energy, typically obtained by using natural gas or fossil fuels. On average, a cremation takes two hours to complete and sustaining this level of heat requires further energy consumption. In addition, the process releases around 400kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per individual, alongside other toxic emissions associated with the cremation of items such as plastics in cremation caskets, and dental fillings etc.. 

There are ways to help mitigate these negative effects, such as choosing eco-friendly caskets and dressing the deceased in simple clothing. However, if the environmental impacts are a concern, an alternate option may be more appropriate. 

Environmental impact of burials

Burials typically have less of a carbon footprint, but there are other factors to consider such as embalming fluids leaking into the ground and burial coffins using natural and sometimes unsustainable materials, or elements that won’t easily degrade. 

The biggest issue with burials is the required use of land, as full body interments take up significantly more space than ashes, so finding suitable locations for these final resting places can be difficult. 

If you or your loved one requests a traditional burial service but are worried about the environmental consequences, there are some options available that can help to reduce the carbon footprint. This includes leaving the body unembalmed, choosing an eco-friendly coffin, and placing a tree at the gravesite where possible in place of a headstone. Your funeral director will be able to help you through this process and will be able to further advise on the possibilities of mitigating the negative impacts of a traditional burial.

Is there an alternative to burial or cremation?

If neither traditional burial nor cremation feels like the right option for you or your loved one, there are other routes that you can take to find something that is more appropriate. The below options are practised in the UK but may be less common, so it is advisable to ask your funeral director to help you source any further information and ensure that this is a possibility. 

Natural burials

There are over 270 dedicated natural burial sites in the UK, they are also sometimes referred to as green burials or woodland burials. This type of burial does not inherently follow a religious tradition so it is a flexible option that can accommodate your wishes, religious or not, as long as they’re within the guidelines set out by the site. 

The process involves the body being interred into the ground using biodegradable coffins or caskets, and a tree or wildflowers are planted at the site instead of a headstone. Most sites will allow you to place a simple wooden cross or other memorial object at the site, or have a dedicated space to fix a plaque. Since these burial sites aim to preserve natural beauty and reduce environmental impact, embalming of the body is prohibited and the use of burial shrouds is encouraged. 

Biodegradable Urns

Biodegradable urns are widely available in the UK and your funeral director will be able to help you choose one if you wish. These urns naturally degrade in the soil which releases the ashes into the ground. Some urns might also contain a mixture of seeds and nutrients which allows trees, flowers, or other plants to be grown at the burial site. However, it is important to note that a tree will not feed on the ashes, it will grow its roots around them. 

Memorial Reef

A memorial reef is ideal for those who would like an eco-friendly sea burial. Ashes are placed into a biodegradable urn which is then interred into a stone pyramid with an attached plaque. This pyramid will then be released into the reef, allowing all kinds of aquatic life to explore and find shelter, helping to build a conservation area for coral, lobsters, eels, fish and more. This is a very unique burial option, and there is currently just one memorial reef site in the UK, located in Dorset. 

Water Cremation

Water cremation, also known as resomation or alkaline hydrolysis is set to be available in the UK soon, subject to changes in legislation, and will be a viable greener alternative to cremation as it will half the carbon footprint created. The process involves using a pressurised tank of water and potassium hydroxide solution which will be heated to 150 degrees Celsius, the bones will then be broken down into a powder which can be returned to the family. They can then choose to bury or scatter these remains like ashes. The process takes around four hours and requires less energy than traditional cremation. 

Create the perfect send-off with Heart of England Funerals 

We understand that making these decisions can be overwhelming and difficult, and we can help to support you through this process. If you’re struggling to decide which option is the most suitable for your service, our funeral directors will be able to help you choose. Taking your loved one’s personality and belief systems into account, as well as your budget, memorial and service preferences, we’ll be able to help you give them the best possible send-off. If you’re ready to discuss the options available to you, contact us or book an appointment.