Cremation or burial: how to decide which is best
Cremation or burial? This is one of the most important questions when it comes to arranging a funeral.
If you’re unsure about whether to choose a cremation or a burial for your loved one’s funeral, or your own funeral in the future, this guide will give you the information you need to make the decision.
We’ve reviewed cost, environmental and religious considerations along with options for after the funeral that may impact your decision; read on to learn more about cremation vs burial.
Which is more popular, cremation or burial?
In the UK, cremation is the most popular funeral choice. 74% of funerals were cremation in 2020. 14% of the cremations arranged were direct cremation services*.
Cremation or burial, which is cheaper?
The costs of cremation or burial can differ throughout the UK, although cremation costs considerably less on average. The average cost of cremation is £3,885 in the UK, whereas the average basic burial costs £5,033*.
The cost of a funeral is largely dependent on where the funeral will take place and the type of funeral arrangements that are made. Visit our average funeral costs page for a deeper breakdown of cremation vs burial costs.
The price of cremation is considerably less if you choose to arrange a direct cremation.
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 services 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.
Which is better for the environment, cremation or burial?
Comparing how environmentally friendly the two options can be very difficult, as there are many factors involved. Along with the cremation and burial process, you’ll need to consider how many mourners are attending, the distance and mode of transport they will use, how far the flowers had to travel, and even the clothes the deceased will be dressed in.
Cremations and the environment
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.
Burials and the environment
The chemicals used for embalming (formaldehyde, also used in the production of veneer chipboard coffins) are toxic and carcinogenic. When a body is buried, these chemicals can leak out into the surrounding area and groundwater. However, 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), is that burial space is limited in the UK. Land use is not a concern for cremation.
If choosing an option an eco-friendly funeral option 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 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, there are 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 a cremation. There are many options for what can be done with ashes.
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 them into a beautiful piece of jewellery, shooting them 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 to arrange a memorial service 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. Memorials such as benches, statues and trees are also increasingly common.
A final thought on cremation vs burial
The choice between cremation or burial can be difficult, whether you are arranging a funeral for a loved one who did not leave instructions for their funeral, 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 separate location, at a later date and more options available to you when it comes to your loved one’s final resting place.
Nevertheless, the choice between cremation and burial is a personal decision to be made by you and your family. Should you be making the decision on your loved one’s behalf, you should take their beliefs into account.
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 £15.97 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’ guide might be for you.
*SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report, sunlife.co.uk/costofdying2021