Burial vs. cremation: What's the difference?

Funeral Planning
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Burial and cremation are two methods of what's called "final disposition" that can be confusing to people who are researching the options. There are many differences such as cost, as cremation tends to be less expensive than burial. This guide will help you determine which one is the best option for you or your family.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  1. Processes

  2. Costs

  3. Practicalities

  4. Religious impacts

  5. Environmental impacts

  6. Final thoughts: which option is best?


Many people are familiar with the burial procedure, which involves the preparing the body then placing in a coffin or casket for the funeral service before the physical burial, which usually occurs at a cemetery.

Cremation, on the other hand, is a process that not everyone is familiar with.

There are several steps involved in planning a cremation, which include:

  1. First, notify your local government of your loved one's death and collect and complete specific documents. You will also need to inform your local public safety agency.

  2. Next, you will have to decide which kind of cremation to use. There are two main types: direct or indirect cremation. There is also a choice between immediate cremation and delayed cremation (which usually involves embalming).

  3. Set up an appointment with your chosen funeral service provider to discuss details.

  4. Pick a crematorium where your loved one will receive their final treatment prior to beginning the preparation processes. Each crematorium offers different services, depending on the location. Most facilities offer basic amenities that include a chapel or private room where family members can meet with chaplains and conduct memorial ceremonies. Many of these facilities have multiple chapels to cater for different religions. A few also allow pets.

  5. Prepare your loved one for their final disposition. This includes washing and dressing them in suitable clothes, then placing them in a comfortable position on a table or gurney where they will be wheeled into the crematorium’s preparation room. During this time you will have an opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one.

If you would like some privacy during this time, many facilities provide individual rooms for visitors who wish to spend more time saying goodbye alone with their loved ones.


Due to the acreage required and the expense of cemetery care, burials can be up to four times more expensive than cremations. According to World Population Review, the average cost of a burial in the US is between $7,000 and $9,000. An average cost of a coffin is $2,000. As a result, the cost of a funeral can quickly mount.

Cremations, on the other hand, are usually far less expensive. According to efuneral, the average cost of a cremation in the US is $3,725.

The most cost-effective choice is a private, unattended funeral, often known as a direct cremation. The average cost of a direct cremation in the US is between $2,000 and $5,000. There is no need for a chapel, celebrant, flowers, or other extras that are typical to more traditional services, which helps to keep the price down. To honor their loved ones, families frequently have their own celebrations of life after the direct cremation has occurred.


Cremations are usually more flexible than burials. Cremation gives loved ones more time to prepare a memorial service or an ashes scattering in any location they deem appropriate for the person commemorated.

Ashes can be scattered, buried, planted with a tree, turned into cremation jewellery, or even used as a component in fireworks. For practical reasons, they may even be split and housed in separate residences.

Burials, on the other hand, are normally held a few days after the person has died, and the funeral is usually held in a cemetery, with a church or chapel ceremony before it.

Religious considerations

Certain religions and cultures have restrictions or preferences when it comes to burial or cremation.

For example, cremation is viewed as sacrilegious to the Jewish community, while people of Islamic faith usually request that the body is buried as soon as possible.

If you are unsure about what the cultural norms are for your community, consider consulting with a cleric of your faith for advice.

Environmental impacts

If being environmentally conscious is important to you, both burial and cremation have advantages and disadvantages. There is some disagreement among advocates of both options as to which has the least harmful environmental impact.

Some argue that the cremation process releases a substantial quantity of pollutants, while others argue that the lack of biodegradability of materials used in traditional caskets, as well as the toxicity of embalming treatments, mean burial has a high environmental impact.

Environmentalists also point out that it takes less energy to cremate a body using modern equipment and dispose of its remains than to bury one using embalming fluids and caskets manufactured from highly processed lumber.

Natural or eco-burials have become increasingly popular in recent years. Embalming fluids are not used in these sorts of burials, and coffins are composed of biodegradable and environmentally friendly materials such as woven cotton, which use less energy during processing.

Cremation also offers more environmentally friendly options, such as aquamation which involves using water instead of burning as a method of final disposition.

Whatever process you choose, many eco-friendly options are now available.

Which option is the best?

The decision to be buried or cremated is a deeply personal one. Aside from the aforementioned factors you may already have a preference for yourself or your loved one if they haven't already made that decision for you.

Keep in mind the legal requirements for your jurisdiction as these could play a role in your decision. For example, if you live in New York City and die without making your wishes known in writing, local law dictates that your body must be disposed of by burial — not cremation — regardless of your actual wishes (the logic being that it’s difficult to spread ashes after they’ve been cremated).

If you are doing to research to make this choice for yourself, keep some questions in mind:

  • How would my family feel about a burial or a cremation?

  • Are either of these methods compatible with my religious views?

  • How do I want my remains managed once I’m gone?

  • Don’t forget to consider what comes next — do you have a plot selected at a cemetery?

  • Do you have your own funeral planned?

  • Have you designated someone to take on these responsibilities when the time comes?

Once you answer all of these questions, make sure to put it all in writing, ideally as part of your will. This way there won’t be any legal confusion later on.

We hope that our guide has helped answer some of your questions, and that you find peace with your decision.