Which is a more popular choice and why - burial or cremation? What is allowed in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious beliefs? How much does a cremation or burial cost?
- Eastern religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism mandate open air cremation.
- Islam forbids cremation and mandates burial.
- The Christian world, which for many years was opposed to cremation, has come to a greater acceptance of cremation over the past century.
- Judaism has a firm anti-cremation stance and requires a timely burial of the dead.
- The Bahai faith also forbids cremation.
- Zoroastrians believe that neither cremation nor burial is the right way to dispose of the deceased. Their traditional method of corpse disposal is through ritual exposure in a "Tower of Silence".
Effect on the environment
Although cremation was promoted after the Second World War as environmentally preferable to burial, modern thinking is challenging this. Gas is consumed in the process and harmful pollutants are released into the atmosphere. The major emissions from crematories are: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, and other heavy metals, in addition to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). According to the United Nations Environment Programme report on POP Emission Inventory Guidebook, emissions from crematoria contribute 0.2% of the global emission of dioxins and furans. Another estimate is that cremating a body consumes energy equivalent to a 500-mile car drive and releases 500kg (1,100 lb) of carbon dioxide.
Natural decomposition after burial seems less harmful to the environment, especially when a shroud rather than a coffin is used.
However, burial is also a known source of certain environmental contaminants. Embalming fluids, for example, are known to contaminate groundwater with mercury, arsenic and formaldehyde. The coffins themselves are another known source of contamination. Another concern is contamination from radioisotopes that entered the body before death or burial. One possible source of isotopes is radiation therapy, although no accumulation of radiation occurs in the most common type of radiation therapy involving high energy photons. However, cremation has no effect on radioisotopes other than to return them to the environment more rapidly (beginning with some spread into the air). Thus, cremation is of no overall help with pollution from this source.
Yet another environmental concern, of sorts, is that traditional burial takes up a great deal of space. In a traditional burial the body is buried in a casket made from a variety of materials. In America the casket is often placed inside a concrete vault or liner before burial in the ground. While individually this may not take much room, combined with other burials it can over time cause serious space concerns. Many cemeteries, particularly in Japan and Europe as well as those in larger cities, have run out, or are starting to run out, of permanent space. In Tokyo, for example, traditional burial plots are extremely scarce and expensive, and in London, a space crisis led Harriet Harman to propose re-opening old graves for "double-decker" burials.
In general, a cremation is cheaper than a burial. According to the BBC, grave digging can cost upwards of £600 whereas a cremation costs around £200 to £300 in the UK.
In the United States, the average cost of cremation is about $2,000 but there is a wide variation in prices. The most basic service is called direct cremation, and many funeral homes offer that service for less than $1,000. But some charge upwards of $4,000 for the same service. While difficult in a time of emotional upheaval and bereavement, it helps to shop around for a good price.
In spite of this variation in price, cremations tend to be cheaper than burials. There is no cost for a burial plot or a casket.
It is possible to plan ahead for both burial and cremation. When pre-buying to make arrangements for your funeral, it is important to pick only a fixed cost option. Do not enter into any contract where the price is not made clear. Also, make your expectations well known—e.g., in a will—so that your family is not subject to pressures of buying a top-of-the-line casket or other expensive burial options.
Check out your local chapter of the Funeral Consumer Alliance (FCA) for more helpful tips on planning a funeral.
Cremation vs Burial Statistics
In the United States, over 45% of the dead bodies are cremated. This rate is expected to climb over 50% by 2018.
Cremation was illegal in Britain until 1884. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, intellectuals, writers and artists in Britain promoted the idea of cremation. By 1940, about 9% of the population chose to be cremated. But now that percentage is over 70.