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Is Cremation or Burial Better?

This is probably the most important question when it comes to the practical arrangements for a funeral.

About 80% of UK funerals are cremations, but this is a very personal choice and being clear about your wishes can only help the people you leave behind.

If you’re unsure which one to choose, this guide will give you all the information you need. There’s no easy answer, and each option has its pros and cons. 

Once you’ve decided, you can move on to the next step, which is to choose the type of funeral service.    

Cremation vs. burial: explore your options

There are many factors to consider, such as the cost of cremation vs. burial in the UK, family or religious traditions, and personal preference. It’s also important to remember that a funeral can be made up of two halves.

When you understand the differences between the final arrangement options, it will make the decision a little easier. 

Cremation as a funeral service

Cremation is the most popular funeral option in the UK, but funeral services involving cremation can vary in format and order.

The most common option is to hold both the funeral ceremony and the committal in a single event at the crematorium. While this keeps everything simple for the family and the funeral director, you are tied to the crematorium diary and limited to a 30-45 minute time-slot for the funeral service as a whole.

Previously, it would have been common for the funeral service to be held in a church and a very brief committal would take place at the crematorium afterwards, perhaps with only a handful of mourners in attendance, with everyone else going on to the wake. Another option is to hold a small, private cremation first, followed by a Memorial service at a different location, perhaps at a church.

Separating the cremation from the farewell or ceremony means that you have more time to say goodbye in the style you want. This freedom from the crematorium diary makes sense and lies at the heart of a direct cremation service.

Direct cremation allows you to arrange a farewell wherever, whenever and however you want. This freedom is possible because you are not worrying about the logistics of transporting and hosting the coffin. In fact, many families are opting to have a farewell with the ashes as the focal point.

Traditional funeral with burial service

As the interment of the coffin is the focus of this style of ceremony, there is really only one format that works. In the UK this will feature a funeral ceremony with the coffin present, either in a place of worship, a cemetery chapel or crematorium chapel and be followed by the burial in the churchyard or cemetery area.

The ritual for burial of the coffin is very brief and would usually feature a reading, poem or prayers before the coffin is lowered into the grave. As burial space is running out, many families will find that the cemetery is a considerable distance from the funeral ceremony venue, making this more complex from a logistics point of view.

Is it better to get buried or cremated?

Cremations are a popular choice for many people nowadays, often because it helps save money. Nevertheless, it is a personal decision made by individuals or family members. It’s also essential to take your deceased loved one’s wishes, feelings, and beliefs into consideration. Religious and cultural beliefs play an important part in the decision. 

Reasons to choose a burial

There are various reasons why someone might choose burial. However, the following are the most common.

  • It’s a traditional way to say goodbye: Often considered the more conventional choice and the farewell that is most familiar in popular culture, such as films and TV dramas. 
  • Permanent graveside to visit: When you bury a loved one, there is a permanent reminder that loved ones can visit when they need to. Having a place to physically visit can help with the grieving process. 
  • Religious beliefs: Jewish, Eastern Orthodox church members, practising Muslims, and some Christians have firm religious and social commitments to burial. 
  • Able to lie alongside loved ones: A burial offers the ability to rest alongside your spouse, family member, or any significant loved one. Often, families choose to prepay for a set of plots to all be laid to rest together. 
  • Allows a formal goodbye: For many, a full funeral with a burial service is the most traditional way to mourn the loss of a loved one, get closure, and deal with grief. 
  • The deceased’s wishes: The deceased may have wanted a burial for one or more reasons already mentioned.  

Reasons to choose cremation

Cremation offers several benefits that burial does not. Everyone has their reasons for choosing cremation, but there are some common key benefits you should consider. 

  • Cremation cost in the UK: On average, a cremation service is cheaper than a burial service. This is because there is no need to purchase additional items such as a headstone or grave plot. 
  • Environmental concerns: Many people view cremation as a “greener option.” A burial disturbs the earth, takes up space and may involve travelling a greater distance to a cemetery that has space.
  • Simplicity: A cremation service is a much simpler process than a burial service. 
  • Flexibility: Cremation gives you several more options in terms of what you can do with your loved one’s ashes. You can scatter them in a unique location, store them in an attractive cremation burial urn, keep a small portion in memorial jewellery, blast them as part of a fireworks display, store them in cremation burial vaults, and many more creative things. 

Burial after cremation

Burying your loved one’s ashes is a popular way of demonstrating symbolic closure following cremation. For anyone who isn’t interested in keeping cremation burial urns with the ashes at home, the interment of ashes can be a practical option. 

You can bury cremated ashes in a cemetery. In most cases, the interment of ashes in a burial plot is much more affordable than a traditional burial because the plot doesn’t require as much space. Furthermore, shared family plots are a way to bury ashes alongside deceased loved ones.

Some cemeteries offer the option of storing cremated ashes in a columbarium. You lease space in the cremation urn burial vaults for a set amount of time.

It’s also possible for you to bury ashes on private property, as long as you have the landowner’s permission.  

Which is more popular: burial or cremation?

Statistics from the Cremation Society of Great Britain show more than 75% of UK funerals involve cremation, one of Europe’s highest percentages.

According to the Sun Life Cost of Dying Report 2024, 20% of the total number of funerals were simple direct cremations. Some very well-known faces have also chosen direct cremation when they passed away.

Moreover, when YouGov surveyed 1,546 UK adults, 58% said they would prefer cremation when they die, in comparison with 17% of those who would opt for burial.

Compare the cost of cremation and burial

There is a significant cost difference between cremation and burial. 

How much does a cremation cost?

According to the SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2024, a traditional funeral with a cremation costs, on average, £4,141. However, the cheapest funeral by far is a direct cremation. You can arrange this type of ceremony for as little as £1,500. 

The average cost of a burial service 

A funeral with a burial, on the other hand, costs £5,077 on average. However, funeral costs vary depending on several things. The type of transport and coffin, funeral director fees, and burial plot cost can all make a significant difference. 

The type of funeral service also impacts the price. A woodland burial plot could be much cheaper at just a few hundred pounds, but remember to add the funeral director fees to this.

Which is more flexible: cremation or burial?

Cremation is more flexible than burial because you can choose whether to have a service at the crematorium or later on with the ashes. This is very helpful if you need more time to make arrangements or gather distant relatives. 

You also have many more options when it comes to the ashes. You can scatter them in a favourite spot, bury them, wear them in jewellery, have them incorporated into a tattoo, sent up in a balloon, and many other options. 

It’s also possible for you to share the ashes between family members. This is a useful option if you all live far apart and it won’t be easy to visit the same cemetery. 

Is cremation or burial better for the environment?

This question is not quite so easy to answer because so many factors are involved. Let’s look at the drawbacks of both options. 

  • Fuel use: A standard cremation uses as much energy as a single person consumes in a month - a high volume crematorium will be much more efficient.
  • Land use: Burial space in the UK is limited. A survey conducted in 2013 indicated that over half of all UK cemeteries could run out of room within 20 years. 
  • Mercury emissions: mercury in dental fillings can seep into the ground and can be released into the air during cremation. However, many crematoria, including Pure Cremation, have added special filters to limit emissions.
  • Use of formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is toxic and carcinogenic. It is used for embalming and in veneered chipboard coffins. Burial carries the risk that this formaldehyde will seep into the groundwater.  

Religious views on cremation and burial

Religious acceptance of cremation is a determining factor for many when considering the final disposition for themselves or a loved one. There are many religions with attitudes that range from cremation as the preferred method to those that forbid it. 

What the Bible says about cremation versus burial

While the Bible does not explicitly forbid cremation, some denominations have stipulated that the body must remain intact ready for resurrection. The Catholic Church permitted burial in the 1960s but the ashes must be kept together in consecrated ground.

Most Christian denominations permit cremation and have no specific rules about the disposition of the ashes.

What religions do not believe in cremation?

Of all the world religions, Islam is probably the most strongly opposed to cremation. It is considered by Islam to be an unclean practice.

Judaism holds that burial is part of the tradition of mitzvah or burying the dead with proper respect. As such, cremation is prohibited in Orthodox Judaism. 

The Eastern Orthodox Church is another faith that is opposed to cremation for its followers. Traditionally, this was due to the perceived pagan associations of cremation and the preference for the body’s natural decomposition as in a traditional burial.  

Arranging a burial or cremation

There are many things to consider when arranging a burial vs. cremation for a loved one or planning a funeral for yourself. When it comes down to it, the choice between burial and cremation is a very personal one. 

How you feel about either option will be the deciding factor, whether you’re arranging a funeral for a loved one who didn’t leave instructions or merely pondering the question for yourself ahead of time.  

When you’re ready to make the arrangements, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch to find out more information.