Cremation vs Burial? Which is best?

by Sophie Williams

Published on 3 September 2020

Cremation or burial - which is best

Currently in the UK the two choices for disposal of a body after death are cremation and burial. 

This guide considers the cost and eco-credentials for each option, and the impact those considerations will have on the people you leave behind. This guide also looks into other factors that may influence your decision.

Who is this guide for?

  • Those planning a funeral, who have'nt decided whether to have cremation or burial.
  •  Someone looking for the greenest option when it comes to cremation or burial.
  • Anyone worried about the cost of cremation or burial and looking for a cheaper alternative

Reading time:

 3 mins

In a manner of your choosing 

When planning your funeral, one of the most helpful decisions you can make for the people you leave behind is whether you want your body to be cremated or buried.

You may already be leaning towards one option because of personal preference, religious beliefs or your understanding of the environmental impact and cost. However, if you are currently undecided, here are some things you may like to consider before making your choice.

Burial vs Cremation

Which costs more – a cremation or burial funeral?

There's no getting around it: the expense of a funeral is a major consideration for most people.

The average cost of a basic burial today is £5,033.  The average cost of a basic cremation funeral is £3,885,  making burial 29.5% more expensive.  

And the gap between burial and cremation is getting wider, as burial space is running low and being sold at a premium.

Difference in cost between burial and cremation

Source:  SunLife (2021) Cost Of Dying Report

Prices include the funeral director's fees

How to cut the cost of a cremation or burial

If you want to cut the cost of your funeral as far as possible, then you may want to consider a no frills 'service without ceremony', also known as a direct cremation or direct burial service.  

The average price for a direct cremation is £1,554 - making the average cremation funeral 150% more expensive.  

A direct service means you will be cremated or buried with no family or friends present.  Family often organise a celebration of life memorial service at a later date.   In the case of a cremation, the celebration sometimes coincides with the scattering of ashes.

How your place of residency can affect the cost of your cremation or burial

If cost is a consideration, then something else you need to be aware of regarding the third-party cremation and burial fees is  is the 'Non-resident' fee.

If you choose a cemetery or crematorium outside your borough of residency, the associated fees (e.g. for the grave, burial, cremation, interment of ashes) can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled! That could amount to a significant chunk of your estate.  It's important to do your research before you commit yourself (so to speak!).

EXAMPLE:  Royal Borough of Greenwich (2021)
The cost of a burial plot purchased in advance in a prime location, including the right to erect a memorial headstone and the fee for one body interment, plus 5-year grave maintenance (weeding and cutting) is £7,113 for a resident and £25,360 for a non-resident. Fees are doubled for a Saturday funeral. (Price excludes the funeral director’s fees)

Is cremation or burial better for the environment?

Whether cremation or burial is better for the environment is a difficult question to answer definitively, because it depends on your definition of greener.

Both options leave carbon footprints. 

  • A gas cremation makes the same domestic energy demands as a single person would for an entire month. Looking at it another way, that's equal to the amount of fuel required to drive 4,800 miles.
  • An electric cremation is more efficient when run on a green energy tariff. It releases about 90% less carbon than a conventional cremation. (There’s only one electric cremator in the UK currently, and it doesn’t run off a green tariff)
  • Some argue in favour of burial on the basis that cremation releases too much CO2.
  • Burial takes up valuable land that could be used for agriculture, housing, or leisure.

Then there are the more granular details of the funeral, such as:

  • The transportation used to get you to the place of burial or crematorium.
  • The upkeep of the burial ground.
  • The sustainability of the materials used to make the coffin.
  • The garment/s your body may be dressed in.
  • Whether you're embalmed.
  • Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic and toxic substance, used to preserve appearance for the benefit of mourners paying their last respects. (Formaldehyde is also present in some veneered coffins). With burial, there is a risk that formaldehyde will leak into the water table.
  • Where the funeral flowers come from.
  • The paper used for the order of service.

Is a meadow or woodland burial the answer to reducing a funeral’s carbon footprint?

Until recently, the general consensus was that a body burial at a natural burial ground (often referred to as a Woodland or Meadow burial) was the approach that produced the least carbon.

With this option, bodies are never embalmed and biodegradable coffins or shrouds are required. Graves are shallow (only one person per grave), which means your body is returned to the earth much faster. Only natural grave markers are allowed (if any at all), such as a wooden stake or natural stone so that the landscape is disturbed less. It's also common for native trees and wildflowers to be planted over graves.

However, research in 2020 revealed cremation as the winner, not least because there is likely to be a crematorium near your home. 

Earth to earth or ashes to ashes?

Choosing cremation or burial is a big decision. We have covered many of the key points above, but in the end, it all comes down to personal preference.


21 amazing things to do with your ashes
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About the author 

Sophie Williams

Sophie can usually be found reading a book. Writing a novel has always been on her bucket list. When not absorbed in the latest page-turner, Sophie likes to explore and gain a deeper understanding of peoples' attitudes towards end-of-life planning and how it impacts their lives. She hopes that in some small way her writing around these topics can make a positive difference to her readers.

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