What is a cremation?

Cremation using gas flame burning is currently the most popular method of body disposal used throughout the civilised world, today.

Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite and as an alternative to the burial or interment of the corpse. In some countries, including India and Nepal, cremation on an open-air pyre is an ancient tradition. Starting in the 19th century, cremation was introduced or reintroduced into other parts of the world. Today, cremation is commonly carried out using a closed furnace cremator, at a crematorium.

Cremation leaves behind an average of 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs) of residues, known as "ashes" or "cremains". This is comprised of unburnt fragments of bone mineral, which are commonly ground into powder. They are harmless and may be interred in a memorial site, retained by relatives, or respectfully scattered at some memorable place to the deceased.

The earliest known cremation dates from about 17,000 years ago in the archaeological record, with the Mungo lady, whose partly cremated remains were discovered at Lake Mungo, NSW Australia.

What is the environmental impact of a cremation?

Gas flame cremation being an obvious source of carbon emissions, cremation also has environmental issues over burial, depending on local practice. Studies by Elisabeth Keijzer for the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Research found that cremation has less of an environmental impact than a traditional burial (the study did not address natural burials), while the newer method of alkaline hydrolysis (sometimes called water cremation) had less impact than both. The study was based on Dutch practice; American crematoria are more likely to emit mercury, but are less likely to burn hardwood coffins.

Keijzer's studies also found that a cremation or burial accounts for only about a quarter of a funeral's environmental impact since the carbon emissions of people travelling to the funeral are far greater.

What are cremation emissions?

Each cremation requires about 110 L (28 US gal) of fuel and releases about 240 kg (540 lb) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thus, the roughly 1 million bodies that are cremated annually in the United States produce about 240,000 t (270,000 short tons) of carbon dioxide, which is more CO2 pollution than 22,000 average American homes generate in a year.

Cremation versus burial

Burial is a known source of certain environmental contaminants, with the major ones being formaldehyde and the coffin itself. Cremation can also release contaminants, for example mercury from dental fillings.

In the UK local authorities are under severe pressure regarding cemeteries. This is basically because they are full! Fees charged at the point of burial are inadequate to maintain graves and headstones, which sometimes, with time, fall over. This both unsightly and unsafe.

Embalming fluids and bodily fluids leak into the ground and may pollute water courses.

This leads to the issue of the re-use of graves. When this occurs, bodies are excavated, the bones usually disposed of and the skull is marked with the name of the deceased and retained in a crypt. This is a tough realisation for many, hence the preference for the polluting use of gas flame cremation.

Alternative death rituals emphasizing one method of disposal of a body—inhumation (burial), cremation, or exposure—have gone through periods of preference throughout history.

It remains a fact, however that gas flame cremation and burial are neither practical nor acceptable methods of body disposal, for the reasons given. Aquatorium, a new UK company is planning to open its first Aquatorium water cremation site in 2022. Visit www.aquatorium.com

COVID-19: guidance for arranging or attending funerals during the coronavirus pandemic

During COVID19 it is not possible to conduct funerals and cremations as before. Attendance at funerals either in church or at a crematorium is limited to 25 persons.

"GoDirectCremations were a lifesaver. Well, not quite. I can't tell you how helpful GoDirectCremations were after my father died. I'd never had to do any "death admin" before and, frankly, didn't know where to start. GoDirectCremations managed the whole thing: transport from the care home, certificates, cremation and final delivery of the ashes. They kept me informed every step of the way. I always knew what was happening and what would happen next. It was probably the most stress free part of the whole process. My father always said he wanted a no-nonsense funeral. GoDirectCremations were able to provide that and dealing with them meant I could spend more time helping my children come to terms with our loss and more time with my father's friends, which I know would have been important to him. Now we have the ashes, we are able to plan a more relaxed thanksgiving ceremony at a time of our choosing. I couldn't recommend GoDirectCremations enough" Ewan McCowen

Futher reading

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