Cremation is the popular choice for people in 2018, but it remains a mystery to many. From cremation’s effect on the ozone layer to the forgotten ashes in a funeral home’s basement. There are many facts about cremation people don’t know, here’s the truth.
1. More people choose to be cremated than buried these days. In some areas, that’s been true for decades.
At some point during 2016, cremation took over as the default option. There are many reasons for this, including cost, convenience, and difficulty finding local burial plots. In the United States, only a small part of the population wanted to be cremated in the 1950s. As a whole, it’s now the majority. But in some areas, cremation has been the top choice for a long time. Canadians have preferred cremation for about 15 years. In states like Washington, Florida and Maine, it’s been at least that long. Island nations like the United Kingdom have limited burial space. As such, cremation has been the majority there for over 50 years.
2. Cremation has questionable effects on the environment, particularly the ozone layer.
The burning of fossil fuels to run vehicles (but also crematoria) has drawn decades of ire due to its long-term effect on the environment. Fossil fuel consumption releases a much higher level of carbon into the air. Over time, this can make global warming worse. It also contributes to depletion of the ozone layer, which protects people from the harmful effects of the sun’s radiation.
For years, cremation has come under fire because of its reliance on fossil fuels just to convert the body into ashes. Older crematoria were quite inefficient, burning for many hours at a high temperature. Fortunately, more recent innovations have made cremation less damaging. Modern machines can cremate a body in a couple of hours, using much less fuel. Alternative methods like alkaline hydrolysis are becoming more accessible. This approach involves a completely different process at a lower temperature, making it more efficient.
3. Facts about cremation, ashes are not really ashes at all.
People often call cremated remains “ashes.” Although ashes coming from a fire seems natural, the remains left after cremation are not actually ashes. Instead, all that is left is bone fragments. These fragments are broken down until they resemble a coarse sand. They may be slightly grey in color. This is why the amount of remains generally doesn’t vary much between adults of a similar height. The average for an adult hovers around 200 cubic inches. People who are very tall or quite petite may have more or less remains because of the size of their bones.
4. Cremation is much less expensive than a traditional burial.
Many people who choose cremation say that cost is a big factor. There is a ton of variation in the prices people might pay. It depends on the kinds of services they want for a funeral or memorial service. A lot of people pay for the handling of their final remains in a package that includes removal and treatment of the body, rental of a facility for a service, and a permanent placement of the remains. With cremation, a lot of these costs are optional. People can pick and choose what works for them. On average, a cremation with minimal additional services might cost a little over $1,000, compared to $6,000-$8,000 for the average burial. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a casket, people might rent one if they plan to have a viewing. The ability to customize options makes cremation more affordable and convenient.
5. Uncollected remains are a fact of life at funeral homes. Funeral directors take different approaches to managing it.
When a person is cremated, the family will usually come to collect the remains shortly afterward. Many funeral homes offer memorial services. After that, family members may take the ashes home, or scatter or bury them as their loved ones wanted. In some cases, a person’s remains are never collected by the family. Funeral directors are bound to keep the remains for a certain amount of time, depending on local guidelines. After that period, which might be a year or several years, the funeral home may dispose of the ashes in a respectful manner.
The preferences of two funeral directors in two nearby cities in British Columbia illustrates the struggle cremation professionals face in this decision. In the city of Kamloops, Lawrence Shrader keeps uncollected remains in their original containers in the basement of his funeral home. Shrader tries to contact family members about the ashes. He says in a lot of cases, people simply don’t know that the remains are still there.
A funeral director in the city of Merritt took a different approach. British Columbia regulations for the disposition of unclaimed remains say that funeral homes can dispose of the ashes after one year, if they publish notices of their intent. Typically, the remains would be placed in a common grave in a cemetery in Kamloops. To try to keep them closer to home, the funeral director of Merritt Funeral Chapel arranged for a local plot and a service to inter many urns with uncollected remains. What began as an unfortunate tale of unclaimed ashes turned into a town’s gathering to say a loving goodbye to many of their own.
6. People don’t have to pick between a funeral with a viewing and cremation. Many choose to do both.
For years, tons of people have misunderstood how cremation works. Just because families don’t have to have a funeral with cremation, doesn’t mean they cannot. In fact, this was a major factor in the Roman Catholic Church’s change of rules to allow cremation. Some people pick direct cremation, which means that the body is taken away to be cremated as soon as possible. But, families still have the option for a viewing or funeral if they want. The body can be treated to preserve it temporarily. That way, family and friends can participate in a wonderful sendoff before the cremation process.
7. National and local guidelines for transport or disposing of ashes can be very complicated.
Since ashes do not decompose and are small in size, many people want to take them to a different place. Scattering or burying ashes in a memorable location could be the perfect final rest for a loved one. However, people have to keep in mind that the rules for transporting or disposing of human remains can be quite strict. Airlines have different rules for bringing remains on board or putting them in checked luggage. Families who want to ship ashes internationally have to follow the post office’s policies and the rules of the destination country. Disposing of remains in a public location calls for similar attention. Private property always requires permission from the owner. Some national parks are happy to accommodate families who follow the rules, and some are not. Scattering or burying ashes in water may or may not be legal. It depends on the use of the water, and how close to land people are when they release the remains.
8. There are new and different ways to cremate a body, and the industry is often looking to innovate.
Preparing people for a final rest is an industry full of history and tradition. That makes sense. But, it is also full of people who are looking for unique options for burial. For example, the green burial movement has driven a variety of alternatives in cremation and handling of remains. Alkaline hydrolysis, the chemical dissolution of the body, has only been growing as a choice for humans in the past 20 years. The number of chambers that can do this is increasing worldwide. Even people who choose the standard cremation option have choices. They could have their remains turned into a glass keepsake that will last a lifetime or placed with seeds to grow wildflowers or a tree.
If cremation is so popular nowadays, why are there so many misunderstandings about it? The broad acceptance of cremation in such a short time means that lots of people are still catching up. A better understanding makes it easier for people to know how cremation works, and what they might do if they choose it.