Cremation myths abound. With the surging popularity of cremation as a common option for final disposition (see #9, below), the myths about cremation are slowly being dispelled. Here are some of the most common ones.
1. Cremation is cheaper than burial
If you compare average costs, this statement is true. The cost of a large plot, fancy casket, embalming, gravesite maintenance and more generally makes traditional ground burial the more expensive option. But depending on what services you select, what you choose to forego, and what you can do yourself, burial can be just as affordable or even more so than cremation.
For instance, the average cost of cremation ranges from $1500-3000 (depending on your area and options selected). But if you skip the funeral home ($0), don’t embalm ($0), make your own coffin ($25-150, depending on materials) get an affordable headstone ($500-700), clarify costs at the cemetery ($850 and up), and have a DIY memorial service ($100 or less), a burial can match the lowest-priced cremation options.
If you can arrange to have your loved one buried on private property, such as a family farm or ranch, you can lower those costs even further.
- Tips for saving $$$ on cremation urns
- What is direct cremation? (A low-cost option)
- 4 things you need to know about direct burial (Another low-cost option)
- 50 Tips for Funeral Planning on a Budget
- How to have a cheap funeral
2. Cremation results in ashes
Although the term “ashes” is used often, even by those of us within the funeral and cremation industry, what is left after cremation is not ashes. The proper term is “cremated remains,” which consist of pulverized bone matter. Everything else other than the bones are incinerated during the cremation process, and the remaining skeletal material is ground down into a fine, grainy powder.
The remains themselves look something like coarse sand, with an off-white color leaning towards gray. You can learn more here.
- What amount of ashes will there be after cremation?
- How does cremation work?
- Estimating cubic inches for cremated remains
- What size urn should I get?
3. You might get someone else’s remains
A common concern, and the punchline to most cremation jokes, but nonetheless a myth. Here is what the ICCFA (International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association) has written as guidelines for its members and as a model for state regulations:
The crematory authority should not simultaneously cremate more than one human remains in the same cremation chamber unless it has written authorization to do so by the authorizing agent of each human remains to be cremated.
Most funeral homes and crematoriums are members of the ICCFA, NFDA (National Funeral Director’s Association), or other local associations. These groups all have similar guidelines, which have been incorporated into various state laws and regulations that govern the funeral industry. Additionally, every funeral home and crematorium has protocols in place that ensure the identity of each body and the resulting cremated remains are never in doubt.
The kernel of truth in this myth comes from a very few instances of shady, disreputable individuals years ago who cut corners and swindle their customers. You can make sure that you avoid this rare exception by taking two simple precautions:
- Ask the funeral director or crematorium staff about how they maintain identity
- Be present for the actual cremation
It is your right to watch the cremation, and doing so helps alleviate the fear that many people have that their loved one’s ashes will be mixed up (or mixed with) another person’s remains. You may not need or want to view the cremation, so another option is to ask about how they handle the remains throughout the process. Most funeral homes and crematoriums are very transparent and wish to give you peace of mind in all aspects of their service, and they will welcome the questions and address your concerns.
4. Cremation is eco-friendly
A partial truth is concealed in this flat-out falsehood. The cremation process itself is not eco-friendly in the least.
However, there are secondary environmental benefits once you’re past the actual cremation. Since there is no body to bury, there is no land used for burial. You can easily forego the formaldehyde used in most traditional burials, and you also skip the casket, grave liner, and long-term cemetery maintenance.
Some insight on the cremation process from Kern:
Though cremation process is better for the environment since it does not use up so much space, yet the actual process of cremation cannot be considered as eco-friendly. For cremation to take place large amounts of fossil fuels are required which in turn releases several harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. These harmful chemicals include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrofluoric acid, and mercury.
One solution to this problem is to make crematoria install filters in their ventilation systems. This way there will be less impact on the environment but the carbon output is still significant. An eco-friendly alternative is bio-cremation, in which the remains are dissolved by an emission-free chemical and liquid process.
Lastly, the harm to the environment caused by the cremation process may be different than what you might think: Roughly the environmental equivalent of a 500-mile car ride. Depending on your perspective, that may be more or less harmful than you are comfortable with, and the eco-friendly benefits of cremation may or may not outweigh those of traditional burial.
- Are cremation ashes toxic?
- Eco-friendly options for cremated remains
- After Death: 8 Burial Alternatives That Are Going Mainstream
- Shop our collection of Eco-Friendly Urns
- 5 Simple Ways to Have a Green Funeral
5. You can’t have a traditional funeral with cremation
Choosing cremation doesn’t preclude a “traditional”-style funeral. You can certainly bury a cremation urn, so the only differences will be the size of the container being buried and no viewing immediately prior to the burial.
You can even have an open-casket viewing and memorial service prior to the cremation; you’ll just need to wait a few days for the cremation to be complete before the burial. All other aspects of the funeral and memorial can be the same.
6. Scattering ashes is illegal
No, but you should seek permission from the land owner prior to scattering. From Knoji:
Many people express the wish to have their cremains scattered at a meaningful location as a way of becoming a part of that environment. State laws about burying or scattering cremains vary, though it is usually legal to dispose of them on your own property or with permission of a property owner. The Environmental Protection Agency does stipulate that cremains should be released 3 miles away from shore. However, since cremains are not toxic, scattering someone’s ashes anywhere will not be a danger to public health. Veterans are entitled to have their cremains scattered at sea by the Navy or Coast Guard.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is common for families to scatter remains at a favorite hiking, camping, or fishing spot. The regulations for just about any publicly owned land can be summarized by “pack in, pack out.” In other words, don’t litter: don’t take anything into the forest or on the hiking trails that you don’t bring back out again.
The purpose of these type of regulations is to protect and preserve the land. Again, since cremated remains are not toxic and not harmful to the environment, most agencies will grant permission when asked. Contact your local city, state, or county offices for more information.
More resources on scattering ashes:
7. You have to purchase an urn from the funeral home
No. You can purchase an urn from anywhere and bring it to the funeral home or crematorium. According to the FTC’s Funeral Rule, “the funeral provider may not refuse, or charge a fee, to handle a casket [or urn] you bought elsewhere.”
We wrote an entire blog post on this topic, linked below plus some more resources:
- Do I have to purchase an urn from the funeral home?
- Cremation Urn FAQ
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns
- FTC Funeral Rule – The FTC guidelines on your rights as a funeral consumer
8. Cremation is different for pets and humans
There is little to no difference between cremation for humans and for pets. Both use the same type of equipment and similar processes, and some crematoriums work with both pets and humans.
Check with your local veterinarian, pet cemetery, or crematorium for more information about pet cremation. For human cremation, check out local listings for funeral homes and crematoriums.
9. Cremation is an “alternative” disposition method
This used to be the case, but it simply isn’t true anymore. Cremation is mainstream in many countries all over the world, averaging about 50% in most developed regions. In the USA, cremation is chosen in more than 33% of deaths, ranging from just under 10% in Mississippi to 68% in Nevada. The average across Canada is 65%, in the United Kingdom it is 73%, Australia 65%, China is at 45% and rising, India at about 85%, and Japan leads all nations with cremation rates at 99.97%. Here is the Wikipedia article on cremation rates around the world.
Since cremation is so common throughout the world, it shouldn’t be described as an “alternative” disposition method any longer. It is one of two common basic choices (burial being the other) for disposition methods.