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Thursday, February 05, 2015

U.S. a Cremation Nation? Maybe Not.

Decades ago, cremation was the odd exit strategy for Americans heading to the Great Hereafter.

Today, it’s fairly common. By the end of 2015, it will be more common than not.

That’s the upshot of a new survey showing the cremation rate rising above 48% later this year, overtaking the rate of burials by nearly 2 percentage points.

The result is a sea change in American funeral practices: For the first time in this country’s history – nearly 140 years after the first modern cremation on U.S. soil took place in a makeshift hearth outside of Pittsburgh – more of us will be cremated than buried.

The American Way of Death? It's looking more like Cremation Nation.

And, well into the future, if that survey is right. By 2020, the cremation rate will reach 56%. Ten years later, we’ll see 70% of all Americans heading into the hearth.

Even more may follow their lead. According to one industry official I spoke with, the U.S. cremation rate is likely to track to that of European countries where cremation is firmly entrenched: Sweden (77%), Denmark (77%), and the U.K. (73%). Some, like Switzerland (85%) and the Czech Republic (80%), boast higher rates yet.

Given our somewhat similar demographics to those countries and the growing acceptance of cremation in this one, the official saw no reason we wouldn’t, literally, go the way of that part of Europe.

But I’m not so sure. And here’s why: the green burial movement.

From hundreds of conversations I’ve had with families, I can tell you that the vast majority who come to green burial are converts from cremation. Cremation, they tell me, had been their default choice. It was more environment-friendly than modern burial, plus cheaper and a whole lot more convenient.

Then they learned about natural burial. They read about RamseyCreek Preserve, where the dead are buried sans embalming in a Southern pine forest. Saw pictures of handsome caskets made from wicker, sea grass, plain pine boards, and other readily biodegradable materials. Learned that it was possible to hold home funerals, build their own coffins, and return one’s remains to some beautiful natural environment -- to push up a tree, nourish a meadow, and rejoin the natural cycle that turns to benefit all those we leave behind. And all this without the environmental drag of cremation, with its high energy costs and resulting emissions.

Those families promptly changed their plans.

My evidence is anecdotally, I know. But it’s in keeping with a couple of early surveys showing that roughly a quarter (and more) of respondents say they are interested in green burial. A percentage that will only grow, I’m convinced, as word about green burial spreads and as the number of green cemeteries, home funeral providers, eco-casket makers and the like continues to increase.

As it does, the cremation rate will dip. At the very least, it won’t climb anywhere near as high as industry prognosticators would have us believe.

An early sign that a shift may already be underway comes from one of those Euro-cremation nations itself, Sweden, where a couple of years ago the popularity of earth burial rose for the first time in 70 years. The environmental benefits of burial over cremation was a main driver. 

Green burial. When I look to the future, I see it's where we’re headed. 

Mark Harris, author
Grave Matters, “The signature book of the green burial trend,” Bangor Daily News

Web. Facebook (Grave Matters). Twitter (@greenburialist).


Unknown said...

Let's have a look at cremation...
IT'S ENERGY INTENSIVE - each incineration uses approx 285 kWh of gas and 15 kWh of electricity.
IT CONTRIBUTES TO GLOBAL WARMING - Crematoria are not run at peak efficiency; the waste heat is not captured and reused; the aggregate CO2 emissions are considerable.
IT IS POLLUTING - a significant proportion of Mercury pollution comes from cremations. Cremations also constitute a significant source of dioxins and furans - persistent organic pollutants.
IT USES UP LAND - Crematoria gardens of remembrance are extensive, high maintenance, wildlife deserts, which generate huge amounts of waste.
IT'S WASTEFUL - Crematoria encourage the purchase of environmentally damaging imported or hot-house cut flowers, plastic trays, oasis, wire and cellophane, which are thrown away by the skip-load each week.
IT DAMAGES THE WIDER ENVIRONMENT - Imported headstones travel across the globe from gigantic environmentally catastrophic quarries. Pollutants travel downwind and contaminate land and reduce air quality. Ashes scattered on iconic mountain tops change the soil characteristics there and the fragile native flora dies.
IT’S A CONVEYOR-BELT PROCESS - 30 minutes, five to get settled, twenty for a hymn, a reading, a eulogy and a favourite song while the curtains close, and five to get out. That's it - in, done, out, next...
We deserve better, we should make our last moments speak positively of how we care for those we leave behind. Make them proud of us - choose natural burial, a more discerning, generous choice.

Mark Harris said...

Great to hear from you, James.

I agree with you about the detriments of cremation, which in part is why I think natural burial will curb its appeal. That and having more natural cemeteries like Usk Castle Chase, images of which I show in my presentations.

Babur Shehzad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Babur Shehzad said...

Great statistics and information. Cremation is becoming more and more preferred choice of funerals not only in USA but also around the world.

Unknown said...

That is interesting that by 2030 most people are going to be choosing cremation over a normal burial. I don't know if I could ever choose cremation for when I did. In my opinion that is something I want to let my loved ones decide. It is more for them than it is for me after all. Cremation

Unknown said...

I had no idea that cremation was so popular in Europe. The fact that some countries, like the Czech Republic, have a cremation rate of 80% is incredible. I've heard a lot about the benefits of cremation. I've learned a lot more about it lately since my grandma is requesting to be cremated when she dies. Hopefully we can find a good service to help make her wish a reality after she's gone. Thanks for the article, Mark!

Unknown said...

I agree with your prediction that cremation services and natural burials will be the trend in the coming years. As you mentioned, I also learned of natural burials as I was researching cremation. I think they are both awesome alternatives to a traditional burial.

Anonymous said...

The natural way to be buried is the way I want to go out for sure. I either want to be cremated and have my ashes just blow in the wind, or be buried under a growing tree so I could be a part of that tree. I want to go out naturally, I don't want to be preserved in some coffin underground. Thanks for the share, it's really interesting we are shifting to more natural burials.

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It really is interesting to think about all the different kinds of options that are available when it comes to funeral homes. I personally think that there are so many ways to know whether you have the right home lined up. Hopefully these different options and overviews will be helpful to those who are in need of choices. My wife is thinking about what kind of funeral home will be a great option for her mom who is currently very sick. Thank you for sharing your information.

Unknown said...

It is good news that the Morden Cremation established in USA. Now cremated is held more than buried. As a result, pollution must be decreased. Sweden (77%), Denmark (77%), and the U.K. (73%). Some, like Switzerland (85%) and the Czech Republic (80%), these are the country that encourages us to accept the Morden Cremation. But few people like that perfect Cremation Urn for Your Loved One's Ashes are the best for them.

Unknown said...

That is an interesting consideration that cremation seems to be the go to resource for most people's final arrangements. I am not sure what all is entailed in the process to set up a cremation service. However, it seems less complex than physical, casket burials.

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Zab said...

This is an interesting read. I thought American's are for cremation. Personally, my family and I are into cremation. That's why we avail cremation funeral plans from St Peter Life Plans.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Smith said...

Our Am Israel Mortuary see more and more people getting cremated these days and having more memorial services. Thank you for the great information on the change in cremation numbers.

Promote-first said...

Well said! Cremation has emerged in recent decades as a viable alternative to burial, due to both its lower costs and the belief by some that it is more environmentally friendly.

Direct Cremation Services Tampa

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Facebook page for the book on green burial, Grave Matters, with updates on the growing movement.