At TalkDeath we love to talk about environmentally friendly options for the disposition of your body after death. Although cremation isn’t necessarily the greenest option, it is often an affordable, accessible, and meaningful body disposition choice that more than half of North Americans are now choosing.
The National Funeral Directors Association 2019 Cremation and Burial Report indicates that most cremated remains (also called “cremains”) in the United States are returned to the families (42%), closely followed by the burial of cremains in a cemetery (35%). Scattering is less common (16%), but new options have arisen since we last explored the practice in 2015. The United States has a relatively low cremation rate compared to many other countries. Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Singapore, and Thailand all have 80% or higher cremation rates. In Japan the cremation rate is 100%. As of 2021, the United States has a cremation rate of 55.9%, much lower than even our northernly neighbor, Canada, at 74.8%.
Rising cremation rates have been accompanied by an increasing variety of options to handle cremains. However, there are some countries that specifically disallow keeping cremated remains in the home, while other countries do not permit scattering. As always, be sure to consult your local laws and regulations when choosing what to do with a loved one’s cremains.
In this three-part series we are going to explore what you can do with cremains on land, in the air, in the water and beyond. Part one will explore & some of the choices on land. Part Two & Part Three are now available.
What Can You do With Cremated Remains? Part One
Burial in a Cemetery
Roughly 35% of people in the United States choose to bury cremated remains in a cemetery. The remains can be buried either in an urn or placed directly into the ground. Many cemeteries require that you purchase a burial plot, but some may allow for the remains of several people to be buried together. In European countries, this is a widely popular option. You can also find many examples of ossuaries within Europe. A body is buried in a temporary grave and later the bones are removed and placed in an ossuary to save on burial space.
These cremation plots are not necessarily friendly to the environment as they are often lined with an urn vault, much like a burial vault. Each of these features–the burial plot, urn vault, and marker–incur fees.
Burial in a Green Cemetery
If you want to forgo the urn vault and marker, you can choose to inter cremated remains in a green or natural cemetery. Natural cemeteries require that the urn be made of biodegradable materials (like wood, cardboard, paper, rock salt, or other natural materials) or the remains can be placed directly into the earth.
Some cemeteries may also allow urns designed to be buried with seeds or tree saplings. Products like The Living Urn and Bios Urn claim to counteract the natural acidity of human cremated remains to help promote tree growth. If you love the idea of being buried beneath a tree, Life Forest plants young, established trees above every cremation plot (and it is also a conservation!).
Urn and Scattering Gardens
Some cemeteries feature dedicated urn and scattering gardens. Some urn and scattering gardens are small areas within a cemetery that have individual markers while others are housed within rocks, benches, fountains, or other landscape elements. Each cemetery will have different guidelines for the interment or scattering of cremated remains, so be sure to check with your local cemetery board for more information.
Only about 8% of people in the United States choose to place cremated remains in a columbarium. A columbarium is an above-ground structure that stores urns. Columbariums are located in free-standing buildings dedicated to that purpose, or they can be part of a mausoleum, or built into church structures. Some cemeteries also have outdoor columbariums.
Urns may be placed in individual or group niches and may include a memorial stone or plaque. Some even have glass front niches, so that you can place an urn, and other mementos such as photographs and small sculptures. Columbariums are usually located near or in cemeteries and they offer a more space-conscious option for a final resting place.
Keeping Personalized Urns
There are different types and styles of urns that are available for storing cremated remains. You can even order customized urns that reflect the personality of the deceased. Foreverence offers urns designed to look like classic cars, guitars, dolphins, and fire trucks at several price-points. Companies like Perfect Memorials also offer custom engraving on more traditional urns. You can even opt for a beautiful hand-carved wooden urn that doubles as a planter.
Parting Stone creates “solidified remains” from cremated human and pet remains. The process involves heating the remains in kilns to create stones. These stones can be placed in a garden or put on display inside a home. Because families receive about 1 stone for each cup of cremated remains, families can expect between 40 and 80 stones from an adult’s cremated remains. Similarly, Spirit Pieces infuses a small amount of cremains within glass stones and art pieces.
These are some of the many options available when considering what to do with cremated remains. It is also worth noting that many of these choices are available regardless of the age of the cremains.
So don’t worry if you’re loved one has been collecting dust on a shelf, the opportunities for meaningful commemoration are only growing.
Parts 2 is now available. Stay tuned for part 3 of our series on what to do with cremated remains. We will explore options in the air, water, and beyond!