These are the pros and cons of cremations vs burials

Which one is ecologically the best option: Cremation or burial?

How does either cremation or burial affect the environment? This is a growing consideration of people when they or a loved one finally comes to rest. Here we will examine the different arguments of each method. 

What are the ecological advantages and disadvantages of traditional burials?

Burial is the traditional method for final disposition of a body after death. The main ecological advantage of burial is being able to return the body to the earth and supply nourishment to other beings. This recycles the body back to mother nature.


The main problem with traditional burials is the chemicals used for the embalming. These formaldehyde-based chemicals over time seep into the water-course polluting it. The mercury used in teeth fillings can also leach into the water supply which can cause environmental hazards. Hardwood coffins and concrete vaults are designed to slow down decomposition, and as such the rate at which the nutrients are returned to the earth. This makes the process less environmentally friendly. Additionally, traditional burial sites get filled up quickly and the land cannot be used for anything else.

What are the ecological implications of cremation?

Cremation is ethical and has become increasingly popular as it saves space. A motto has been adopted to promote cremation which is to conserve “The land for the living”. Cremated remains are high in certain nutrients which make them good for the environment. 


Modern cremation practices have made significant reductions in emissions. However, there are still concerns that cremations can lead to an increase in greenhouse gases (higher carbon footprint). Wooden coffins, especially those made with chipboard and bonded with a formaldehyde resin, create more pollution. 

Modern cremation methods that offer more environmentally-conscious options for eco-minded consumers

There are methods to overcome the negatives of cremations. Green cremations are rising in popularity as people become more environmentally conscious when compared to traditional cremations and casket burials.  


Alkaline hydrolysis


One way is through the use of alkaline hydrolysis which vastly speeds up the natural decomposition process. The body is placed in a container filled with water and lye and steam-heated to 300 degrees for three hours. At the end of the process, all that remains of the body is fluid and bones. The former results in a sterile solution which can be recycled to the earth while the latter being ground up into ashes and returned to the family in an urn. 


There are still some misconceptions about the process. While the general public is used to cremations, this method is not fully understood. Some think that the body gets boiled or treated with acid until it turns into a sludge. The alkaline hydrolysis method uses heat, pressure, and a water/potassium solution. This reduces the body to ash and fluid. 

Water cremation (aquamation)

The process, known as water cremation or aquamation, is particularly green as it does not release chemicals and uses substantially less energy than the conventional method. The mercury in dental amalgam is contained and recycled, not vaporized. As no casket is required and little fossil fuel is used, there is a minimized effect on greenhouse gases. Embalming fluid is neutralized and cytotoxic drugs are destroyed in the process. All these aspects have beneficial impacts on the environment. 


While not new, this method has only recently been available to the public for less than a decade but is appealing to many people. The idea that their loved one will burn in a fire seems violent. Choosing this method is like putting their loved one in a hot bath. Aquamation is only legal in several states in the United States; however, this figure should grow with time. 

Summing up the pros and cons of cremation and burials 

There are pros and cons to either method: cremation or burial. Choosing the final resting place of a family member is a very personal process but as people become more environmentally conscious new methods of dealing with people’s remains are considered and rising in popularity.