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?
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.
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.
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.
Then there are the more granular details of the funeral, such as:
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.
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Before You Go