Cremation or burial—which one should you choose? Cremation and burial are two different ways to finally allow the deceased’s body to rest in peace. Saying the last goodbye to your loved one is one of the most emotional experiences you can go through, and we all want to do this properly to honor their departed soul the way it deserves.
Choosing between cremation and burial is a very personal choice that usually depends on faith, personal values, and family custom. But some people are still torn between cremation and burial, especially the ones who unexpectedly lose a loved one and suddenly find themselves forced to make a quick decision.
We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about each method—their pros, cons, alternatives, and more—so you can make the best decision for your loved one. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Not everyone can arrange an expensive funeral for themselves or their loved ones—the cost is a huge factor when choosing between cremation and burial. A funeral today often costs between $7,000 and $12,000. These include the cost of a casket, embalming and other body preparation, transportation, viewing, burial, and funeral home service. Extras (flowers, a monument, the cemetery plot, etc.) are not included in these prices.
When comparing costs between the two, people tend to spend more money arranging a funeral because the costs of traditional burials are typically higher than those of cremations. On the other hand, because fewer services are required, cremations are frequently less expensive than traditional burials. So we recommend researching options to avoid overspending later if you choose burial.
While the rule of thumb is that burials are more costly than cremations, these costs can vary depending on several factors. For example, the cost of cremation may vary depending on the method used. There are also state-by-state variations that might affect the overall cost.
Still, want more numbers? Then read on:
1. Body Preparation & Embalming
Body preparation and embalming typically cost $775 – $1,800. While cremation does not necessarily require embalming, it’s required by funeral homes if the family wants a viewing. But other than that, embalming is not required if the family opts for a direct cremation, which is carried out right away after the person dies. If the family opts for a direct burial, which entails burying the deceased without holding a funeral or graveside service, embalming is unnecessary.
Other body preparation, which may cost around $275, includes the dressing and cosmetic work to make the body look presentable. If the funeral home is used for the viewing, there’s an additional cost of around $450 and an additional $515 for the funeral service.
A casket is required for a funeral or viewing, costing about $2,500+. Casket costs can differ greatly—they come in different materials that you can choose from depending on your preference and budget, including metal, bronze, solid wood, and copper.
If you choose burial instead of cremation, you’ll probably need to pay an average of $1,575 for a vault, which many cemeteries require to provide protection to the casket. According to the National Caregivers Library, the most expensive vaults can add up to $10,000 to the cost of a coffin, which can cost up to $65,000. However, if you opt for cremation, your funeral home may provide a rental casket during the service and transfer the body for the cremation.
Finally, a hearse can cost $350 to transport a body to a cemetery, which usually includes driver’s services.
3. Urn (Cremation)
Some families wish to scatter the deceased’s ashes, so they get an urn to preserve them until they decide to scatter them, which can cost $280 – $5,000+. The cost of the urn mainly depends on its material (ceramic, pewter, stainless steel, wood, etc.).
Depending on the materials used, keepsake urns (miniature urns intended to hold only a part of the ashes) can cost anywhere from $10 to $250. The pricier urns are made of marble or precious metals and may feature stunning engravings and unique stones. However, the price might be slightly less if the family already has an urn.
4. Graves & Headstones
According to the National Network of Cemeteries, gravesite prices vary by state, with the majority falling between $1,100 and $2,000 (except for California, where prices are closer to $4,000). On average, headstones cost about $1,500-$2,000. Of course, these prices depend on the stone’s material, size, and shape.
The price of every part of the funeral depends on whether you choose cremation or burial.
2. Impact on the Environment
One of the most important differences between cremation and burial is their impact on the environment, which you should consider before choosing your preferred way if you’re a person who places importance on green choices.
The impact of cremation and burial on the environment is up for debate—supporters of both options disagree on which has the most detrimental effects on the environment. Some argue that the cremation process releases a substantial number of harmful pollutants. In contrast, others believe that the lack of biodegradability of the materials used in conventional caskets and the toxicity of embalming fluids make cremation a more environmentally friendly option.
If you look closer at the impact burial has on the environment, you see that an average 10-acre cemetery holds 1,000 tons of coffin steel and enough wood to construct many houses. Furthermore, there’s no room for animal or plant life in an overcrowded cemetery. Cutting flowers to place them at your loved one’s grave can also harm the environment.
On the other hand, Mercury vaporization emissions from crematories are extremely toxic and can get in our food. Acid rain forms from vaporized mercury that disperses into the air and then falls back as harmful rain deposited on land and water.
For these reasons, green burials—also known as eco-burials—have been gaining popularity and support lately. The casket is made of biodegradable and environmentally friendly materials, and no embalming fluids are used. There’s also no cremation in green burials, which can help reduce the toxic emissions from crematories.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Help?
Yes, absolutely. If you prefer burial over cremation, you can make the burial more eco-friendly by opting for a biodegradable wood, wicker, or cardboard casket. These will not just save you a good sum of money, but they’re also easily absorbed into the earth. You can also use a shroud for the burial, a constructed cloth covering wrapped around the deceased.
Additionally, skipping embalming is better if you don’t want to harm the environment with the many chemicals used in this process. And no, embalming is not legally necessary unless under exceptional circumstances, such as the need to transport the body a considerable distance.
What about cremation? The first thing you want to do is to make sure the provider you choose uses pollutant filters. You also want to ask them to remove and recycle medical implants like pacemakers or prosthetic limbs. Finally, using a biodegradable urn is also important if the ashes are buried.
Are Green Burials a Better Option?
Yes, only if you care about not harming the environment above all else. But first, what exactly is a green burial?
As the name suggests, green burials (eco-burials) emphasize burying the deceased respectfully while causing little-to-no harm to the environment. Green burials are becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons. One of them is their simplicity—placing the body in a plain or wrapping it in a shroud is a hassle-free process and does not take much preparation.
Most green cemeteries don’t allow embalmed remains and burial vaults. A few also don’t allow burying cremated remains. They only allow using non-toxic, biodegradable materials like shrouds. They also prohibit or have strict restrictions on personal plantings and various memorial decorations (flowers, flags, toys, wreaths, chimes, balloons, etc.) to preserve the plants and wildlife in the area. For these reasons, we recommend you inquire about the cemetery’s restrictions before buying a plot.
Green burials can also be an affordable alternative to traditional burials or cremation, saving a lot of money since they don’t require expensive caskets, embalming, or vaults. The price may be further decreased if the family provides their shroud.
Another great advantage of eco-burial is that it helps in preserving natural areas. The burial sites provide food and shelter for wildlife and serve as a natural area full of beautiful trees, wildflowers, and shrubs. This adds more meaning to the burial of your loved one—their death will give life to other creatures.
And, of course, one of the most important benefits green burial offers is the elimination of toxic chemicals used in embalming. Millions of gallons of embalming fluid are used annually in the US, and funeral home employees are constantly exposed to it.
3. Religious Considerations
When choosing between cremation and burial, one thing you should consider is how your religion views each one of them. This can help you make the best decision for yourself or your loved one. Here’s how each religion views cremation and burial:
Islam strongly opposes cremation and views it as a disrespectful way to treat the body of a deceased person. Muslims believe God created humans from the soil, and the most respectful way to treat bodies is to return them to the soil by burying them.
They carry out the command of God to return bodies to the soil after death and wait until he brings them back from the soil on the day of Judgment. Additionally, Muslims believe that the body is essential for mourning since it serves as a reminder that all humans will eventually pass away.
Christians have a wide range of opinions regarding cremation. Up until the 1960s, cremation was prohibited by the Catholic Church. However, the cremated remains must be buried (not scattered) or taken home by the survivors.
Cremation is prohibited by the Church, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, and other fundamentalist Christian denominations. On the other hand, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Lutheran churches permit cremation.
Jews are required to bury their deceased according to Jewish law. Judaism holds that the family should be in charge of making the necessary arrangements for the burial. The family should arrange burial in a Jewish cemetery even if the deceased prefers cremation. This is because Jews believe that their bodies are not theirs; it’s their god’s.
Hindus hold that although the soul is fundamentally untainted, it needs a body to exist. According to Hinduism, the body’s desires and connections bind it to the mortal world.
Reincarnation is an essential belief in Hinduism, which takes place when souls leave bodies and enter other bodies after death. This can repeatedly happen until the soul attains Mukti, the spiritual liberation. They believe that cremation speeds up the soul’s journey to Mukti. As a result, cremation is the preferred method in Hinduism.
The Final Verdict
Back to the main question: should you choose cremation or burial? After thoroughly reading the differences between each method, you already know there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question—it depends.
If your belief and your family’s belief encourage burial, and if you have the necessary financial means to afford it, nothing stops you from opting for a burial. But if you want a more budget-friendly method, and if the beliefs of the whole family don’t oppose cremation, then you can opt for this option.
Remember, though, that both methods negatively affect the environment—if you want to honor the soul of your loved one without harming the lives of other creatures, eco-burials are the way to go.