The Cremation Trend
Google “cremation” on the New York Times website and you get 8,730 results. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that these stories range from cremation guidelines issued from the Vatican to a feature story on a popular Queens columbarium. While this may not seem like a sexy topic for news writers to be focusing on, it is an undeniable trend in disposition that is gaining traction and attention in American culture.
By the year 2030, cremation rates in the United States are expected to top out at 71%, according to one NFDA study. So people are wondering – what does this mean? Why are Americans choosing to be cremated as opposed to traditional burial, and what are the implications of this choice?
Alternative methods of disposition are nothing new to the funeral industry. For years, people have been presented with a variety of disposition methods at the funeral home. This includes traditional burial, donating body to science, green burials, and more. Yet, none of these options have grown in popularity as quickly as cremation. The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) identifies the desire to save land as one of the top reasons for this rising trend.
So if people are choosing cremation to save land, how does the carbon footprint of cremation compare to that of a casket burial? According to the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted in the Netherlands, cremation has half the environmental impact of a casket burial. This is mainly due to the maintenance of the burial grounds and decomposition over time. Considering 13% of consumers choose cremation to save land space, the upward cremation trend is congruent with consumers heightened awareness of their environmental impact.
It is no secret that the Catholic Church has been making recent headlines in regards to its newly developed stance on cremation practices. In a nutshell, they have announced that burials (whether casket or cremated) are the preferred method of handling remains. They are not prohibiting cremation, but they have indicated that they do not support scattering of cremains in lieu of burial.
The Catholic Church readdressing it’s stance on cremation is one indication that the cremation trend is growing not just in the USA, but worldwide. However, cremation is not a new phenomena. Scholars believe that cremation has been a practice in some form since the Early Stone Age in 3000 B.C. Although it wasn’t until the year 1874 that the first known crematoriums were officially opened in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany.
Cremation has long been standard practice in many Asian and European countries, with Japan leading the way at an astounding 99.9% cremation rate in 2014. While later to adopt, the USA has experienced a major recent growth in cremation, boasting a substantial 25.4% increase from 1996 – 2014.
It may seem like this cremation trend happened overnight, but in reality, many factors have aligned to cause a shift in perspective. According to CANA, some of these factors include:
- Cremation has become more socially acceptable
- Ties to tradition are becoming weaker
- Religious restrictions are diminishing
- Families prefer more memorial service flexibility
Combine these with the fact that 30% of people choose cremations over burials to save money, and it becomes quite obvious why cremation rates are growing at a rate of 1-2% every year.
Speaking of money, it happens to be the biggest motivating factor for people choosing cremation. This should come as no surprise since the average price for a direct cremation (at a funeral home) is $2,260, compared to an average funeral and burial cost of $7,181. It should be noted that direct cremations are very cost-effective because families are opting for cremation only, instead of including a funeral service and burial.
This cremation trend indicates that families are choosing to conduct their own forms of memorialization through celebrations of life and other means of remembrance. Money saved by doing a direct cremation can provide families with more funds to support these new traditions. Many people also find that ashes can provide for creativity in the grieving process. While scattering cremains or creating cremation jewelry are well-established options, society has gotten more imaginative. One can now be made into a firework, launched in a helium balloon, or sent even higher with a one way ticket into outer space.
At Mapalife, we believe this growing cremation trend is good for our planet and is good for us – enhancing the memorial process while also reducing the cost of a funeral. Whether ashes are buried, scattered, or planted with a tree, cremation allows us to celebrate and memorialize our loved ones in unique and meaningful ways.
As society and the funeral industry embrace this new form of disposition, we are going to see an increase in our ability to celebrate life. New traditions and celebrations will become commonplace. Our land and planet will appreciate the reduced burial burden. And most importantly, the locations and memories that mean most to us will live on through new forms of memorialization.