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The Pros and Cons of Burial vs. Cremation

While burial used to be the most common method of disposition in the United States, cremation has been growing in popularity at a rapid rate, becoming more common than burial in 2015.

If you’re deciding between burial and cremation for yourself or a loved one, here are some factors you may want to take into account – plus, some lesser known alternative methods of disposition that you may want to consider.

Deciding on burial

Burials were traditionally the primary method of disposition in the United States, up until the 1980's when cremation overtook burial in terms of popularity. While now less popular, burials are still the primary choice for many people in the US. Unfortunately, with this method of disposition comes an extremely high cost; the average funeral in the United States with a burial is $9,000. Here are some things to consider when deciding on burial as your method of disposition.

Pros of burial:

  • Burial is generally preferred by the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
  • Especially among older generations, burial is often considered to be more traditional.
  • Some people prefer to think of their loved ones this way.
  • The body can be exhumed, if needed.

Cons of burial:

  • Burial is generally much more expensive than cremation.
  • Traditional burial is not considered environmentally friendly, due to caskets, burial vaults and embalming chemicals entering the ground.
  • It is extremely difficult to move a gravesite if family members move to another location.

Deciding on cremation

Cremation is currently the most popular method of disposition in the United States as well as the least expensive option. While a burial costs $9,000 on average (with full funeral services), families can expect to pay around $3,500 with services included. Here's some of the pros and cons of opting for a cremation.

Pros of cremation:

  • Cremation is generally preferred by the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
  • Cremation is usually a much cheaper alternative to burial.
  • Cremation is considered to be more environmentally friendly than burial.
  • There are many more options for where cremated remains can be kept, scattered or buried.
  • Cremated remains can be kept or scattered in multiple locations and are easy to transport.

Cons of cremation:

  • Some people have difficulty thinking about their loved one going through the cremation process.
  • Once someone has been cremated, it cannot be undone.

Not sold on either?

Here are some other options to consider:

Donation to science: If the idea of continuing to help others after your death appeals to you, you may want to consider donating your body to science. Many medical programs rely on donated cadavers for important medical training and research. As an added bonus, most anatomical donation programs cover the costs of transportation and cremation (following use), making it a great option for anyone on a limited budget. While some organizations require the individual to register in advance of their death, many allow next of kin to make the donation post-death, as well. Browse organizations.

Green burial: Green burials are rising in awareness and popularity as people look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional burial. Green cemeteries ban standard embalming chemicals, require burial in biodegradable caskets or shrouds and focus on preserving natural views and native plants. If you're interested in a green burial, you'll want to ensure the cemetery you're working with is a green cemetery before deciding on it.

Alkaline hydrolysis: Alkaline hydrolysis (also known as liquid cremation) involves dissolving a cadaver in a heated alkali solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH). The process mimics the body’s natural process of breaking down over the course of 2-3 hours (instead of about 25 years). Alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be greener than standard cremation, but it’s still relatively new and has only been legalized in 15 states, as of early 2018.

Burial at sea: A burial at sea involves boating out into the open ocean and putting a body overboard in a weighted, biodegradable burial shroud. Because of the requirements and time involved, burials at sea tend to be one of the most expensive disposition options. An alternative to this (while still expensive) is to have your cremains turned into a coral reef. Those who are environmentally conscious, or love the ocean, might find this method of disposition to be perfect.

If you're planning a funeral, consider using our funeral planning tool to help you figure out what your preferences are. Once filled out, you'll receive a checklist of funeral planning recommendations and quick links to help you plan a beautiful memorial and funeral service.

For more information on choosing between burial or cremation, check out Cremation vs. Burial: Pros and Cons and Everything You Need To Know About Cremation.

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Last updated June 15, 2022
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