Cremation or burial: how to decide which is best
Cremation or burial? The choice of funeral for a loved one that has a recently passed away or yourself in the future, can be challenging.
Is cremation cheaper than burial? Does religion have any impact on the decision? What are the options for after the funeral? This guide will talk you through the answers to these questions and the pros and cons of cremation vs burial, giving you the information you need to make the decision.
Cremation or burial, which is cheaper?
The costs of cremation vs burial can differ throughout the UK, although a cremation will normally cost less. The average cost of cremation is £3,885 in the UK, whereas the average basic burial costs £5,033*; 74% of funerals in the UK in 2020 were cremation.
The cost of a funeral is largely dependent on where the funeral will take place and the type of funeral arrangements that are made.
Learn more about average funeral costs in the UK.
If cost is an important element in your decision process, a direct cremation service may be suitable for your needs. A direct cremation takes place without a service beforehand, and without any mourners present. Due to the simple nature of this type of funeral, a direct cremation is the most cost-effective funeral option available in the UK.
At Simplicity, we offer direct cremation from just £995. Unlike a traditional funeral arranged by a Funeral Director, our funerals are arranged over the telephone by our team of funeral experts, allowing us to provide you with considerable cost savings. Our funeral prices remain the same, no matter where in mainland UK you are located.
Is cremation or burial better for the environment?
Comparing how environmentally friendly the two options are can be very difficult as there are many considerations. For example, you’ll need to consider the length of travel for people, flowers, and even the clothes the deceased is dressed in.
The cremation process releases gasses into the atmosphere which are not released by the burial process. However, it is important to note that crematoriums must adhere to stringent standards and processes to make the cremation process as environmentally friendly as possible. There is also the energy use to consider with cremation as it requires a lot of fuel.
The chemicals used for embalming (formaldehyde, also used in veneer chipboard coffins) are toxic and carcinogenic. When a body is buried, these chemicals can leak out into the surrounding area and groundwater. Embalming is not a requirement of burial as a body can buried without been embalmed. Land use is another consideration when choosing burial, as one of the main reasons for the popularity of cremation and cost differences between cremation and burial in the UK, is that burial space is limited. Land use is not a concern for cremation.
If choosing an option that is environmentally friendly is important to you, a burial at a natural burial ground may be most appropriate. These types of burials do not use embalming fluids and coffins are made of environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials. Natural burials can also be considerably less expensive than a traditional burial.
Religious beliefs about cremation vs burial?
Your loved one’s religious beliefs may influence your decision to choose a cremation or burial. Some religions do not believe in cremation, making a burial the only option available to you:
Buddhism: Buddhists can choose cremation or burial, although cremation is more common as it is believed Gautama Buddha was cremated.
Christianity: Most Christian groups support cremation and burial equally, with a few exceptions. The Eastern Orthodox Church for example, forbids cremation.
Historically cremation was banned by the Catholic Church, but nowadays it is widely accepted. However, most Catholic churches prefer the body to be present for Funeral Mass meaning the cremation would have to take place after this service. Following the cremation, the ashes need to be buried or stored in a sacred place.
Hinduism: Hindus are normally cremated. Hindus place little value on the body itself and see no importance on preserving the corpse, which is the intent of burial in other religions. In Hindu funerals, the role of cremation is to sever the ties of the soul to the body that it is leaving, freeing it to move toward mukti. Some families will take the ashes to India to scatter them in the Ganges. Saints, holy men and children under three years old are buried.
Judaism: The Jewish law asks that a body is washed, dressed in the proper clothing and buried as soon as possible. Due to the various sects of Judaism, Jewish funeral tradition between each congregation can vary however, with Reform Jews allowing cremation.
Islam: Cremation goes against the beliefs of Islam, as Muslims believe that a body should be honoured and respected as it was in life, meaning Muslims are prohibited from choosing cremation.
Sikhism: Cremation is preferred by Sikhs although burial is accepted if the circumstances do not allow for cremation.
After the funeral: options for cremation or burial
Whether you choose a cremation or burial funeral, there are many memorialisation options you may choose for after the funeral. One of the key differences between burial and cremation is that the ashes can be returned to the family following the cremation. There are many options for what to do with ashes after cremation.
The most popular option is to scatter the ashes in a place that was special to your loved one and family, such as a local park or a beauty spot that they loved. If a final resting place with the option to visit your loved one is a key consideration, interment of the ashes would be more suitable. There are also many unique things you can do with ashes, from turning the ashes into a beautiful piece of jewellery, shooting the ashes into space or creating a vinyl record.
Many people choose direct cremation so they can arrange a memorial service or celebration of life in honour of their loved one at a time and place away from the crematorium, often with the ashes present. This can be particularly helpful if you need more time to make arrangements or gather distant family members. Families who have chosen a traditional cremation may also choose this option in addition to a funeral service at the crematorium.
For some people, the above options can feel very final. You may instead wish to keep your loved one’s ashes at home in an urn, where they can be close to you.
If you choose a burial funeral, either in a cemetery or on private land, a headstone can be erected to provide a physical location for friends and family to visit to remember their loved one, providing you have the landowner’s permission. The cost of a headstone can vary considerably depending on the material, finish, shape and personalisation.
The choice between cremation or burial is a very personal one, whether you are arranging a funeral for a loved one or thinking ahead for your own funeral. As we have shown, cremation can be more flexible and affordable than burial, as you have the option to choose whether to have a service at the crematorium or at a later date in an alternative location, and more options when it comes to your loved one’s final resting place.
If you feel strongly about making decisions for your own funeral, a prepaid cremation plan will allow you to plan and pay for your funeral in advance. Learn more about our range of prepaid funeral plans, available from just £16 per month. If you’ve been thinking about your own funeral, but you’re not ready to buy a funeral plan, our share your funeral wishes form might be for you.
*SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report, sunlife.co.uk/costofdying2021