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Burial vs cremation: Which is best?

Choosing between Burial vs Cremation

The question of burial vs cremation can be a tricky one to answer, but let’s start with seeing which is the most popular choice.

Of the 669,762 people who passed away in 2021, 78.4% were cremated according to statistics published by The Cremation Society.

But is burial or cremation best for you? Deciding between them can be difficult, especially if you are arranging a funeral on behalf of someone who has not expressed a wish either way. 

With over 3/4 of farewells being cremations, should you choose it for yourself or your family? In this article we will explain the difference between the two and give pros and cons for both to help you decide.

Pros and Cons of Burial

Provides a fixed place to visit the deceased and pay your respects. More expensive than cremation on average. 
General accepted by main religions. Formaldehyde use in some wood veneered coffins can pollute groundwater.
It is a traditional way of saying goodbye that even younger family members understand well. Not as flexible as cremation – family and friends are tied to a fixed single location if they wish to visit your grave and pay their respects.
More freedom to put mementos of your choosing in the casket than cremation offers. The use of land in burials is problematic, with the Law Commission currently reviewing old burial legislation in light of calls to allow graves to be reused as cemeteries run out of land in the UK. 
The body can be exhumed if necessary in the future. The grave will need to be maintained, which is an added ongoing cost for loved ones. 

Important Pros and Cons of Cremation

Cheaper than burial on average.Like burial, cremation also has an environmental impact. 
More flexible than burial – ashes can be divided between family members, buried, made into jewelry or ornaments, or kept with surviving relatives, as well as other options.Not possible for members of some religions. 
Takes up less land (or none, if you don’t wish to bury the ashes) than burial. It is irreversible. If someone passes due to a tragedy and is cremated, it is not possible to exhume them at a later date and investigate. 
Less time sensitive than burials, giving loved ones more time to plan the funeral. Cremation can provide a reduced amount of closure, especially if it is a direct cremation. 
It is generally less complicated to plan a cremation service. It an be hard to choose what to do with cremation ashes.

Cremation vs Burial: which is cheapest?

In a recent Cost of Dying report published by SunLife, it was found that the average burial in the UK cost £4,794 in 2022, whereas the average traditional cremation cost £3,673. 

With cremation, there is the option of having a ‘direct cremation’, where there is no funeral service held. 

The average direct cremation was far below average traditional cremation and burial funeral cost at £1,511.

Is burial or cremation better for the Planet?

What about the cost to the Earth? Well, burial and cremation both have consequences for the environment. It is estimated that the average cremation releases 400kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Mercury from cremated dental fillings is released into the atmosphere during the cremation process. Exposure to mercury is linked to fertility, nervous system and brain-related health issues. 

On the other hand, when a body is buried then embalming chemicals, radiotherapy and chemotherapy drugs and formaldehyde from veneer coffins can contaminate soil and groundwater.

Eco-friendly burials

Unlike cremation, it is possible to have a more ‘eco-friendly’ burial, which can be kinder for the planet and your wallet.

If you choose to be buried at a natural burial ground then your body cannot be embalmed and must be placed in a burial shroud and a biodegradable coffin at a shallower depth to encourage faster decomposition. 

Grave markers are not used in natural burial grounds, but planting flowers, trees or shrubs to mark the location is welcomed.

Cremation vs Burial according to different religions


With over 27.5 million people (46.2%) in the 2021 UK Census reporting as Christian, it remains the majority religion in the country. So, what does the bible say?

Most Christian groups allow cremation and burial, with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Church which does not allow cremation.


Followers of Islam make up the second-largest religious group in the UK, with 6.5% (3.9 million people) describing themselves as “Muslim” in the 2021 Census.

As Muslims believe that the body should be respected as it was in life, cremation is forbidden in Islam. 


Cremation is commonly chosen by hindus as they believe that the process allows the soul to escape more quickly from the body.


Both cremation and burial are allowed in this religion, but cremation tends to be preferred.


Jewish law requires bodies to be prepared and buried as soon as possible after death. In spire of this, a minority of Jews prefer to be cremated.


Both cremation and burial are allowed in this religion, but as many believe Gautama Buddha was cremated, cremation is the more popular choice.

What is cremation?

Cremation is the process of using heat to turn the remains of a person who has passed away into ashes.

What is a burial?

A burial (also referred to as ‘interment’) is the process of burying the remains of a person who has passed away in the ground.

What happens when a body is cremated?

What happens when you are cremated? Well, after a funeral service ends, by law UK crematoriums have three days to complete the cremation. 

Most crematoriums aim to complete the process within 24 hours. 

After ensuring that nothing has been left in the coffin which could cause damage, and after confirming that the deceased does not have a pacemaker, the coffin is placed in the crematorium machine. 

This is heated to between 800 and 1,000 degrees celsius. 

The remains are burned for 90 minutes, with staff checking at intervals to see if the process is complete. 

The ashes are then collected with a rake and left to cool for an hour. 

Once cooled they are sieved to remove any metal objects such as jewelry or joint replacements, which are often recycled, and the ashes are made ready for collection.

What happens to a body that is buried?

There are four stages that a body goes through once it has been buried in a coffin:

Stage 1: Autolysis – 1-3 days after death

This means ‘self-digestion’, and occurs immediately after death. It is caused when blood flow and breathing stops.

With no way to release any excess carbon dioxide, an acidic environment is created which causes cell membranes to rupture.

When human cells break down in this way it releases enzymes which begin decomposition and rigor mortis.

Stage 2: Bloating – 3-5 days after death

During this stage, the enzymes that are released in stage 1 produce gases which cause the body to bloat. Skin can change in appearance and the decomposition can start producing odors.

Stage 3: Decay – from 8 days after death

After several weeks, the teeth and nails will come loose. After four weeks, the body loses the majority of its mass as soft tissue, skin and organs are liquified.

Hair, bones and cartilage will remain at the end of this third stage.

Stage 4: Skeletonisation – from three weeks to several years after death

This is the final stage of decomposition, where after stages 1-3 the skeleton of a body is exposed.

A number of factors such as temperature and the presence of water, humidity or insects can alter how quickly this stage is reached.

Which is the best funeral option for you?

Both burial and cremation have their own pros and cons which should be considered alongside your own beliefs and wishes, or those of the loved one you are planning a funeral for. 

Cremation is generally a more flexible method, allowing you to remember your loved one in more creative ways and share their remains, but it is an irreversible process with an environmental impact. 

On the other hand, burial is more generally understood and provides a fixed location for remembrance. Although burial is on average more expensive and the grave will need to be maintained for generations to come.

If you are concerned about expressing details for your own funeral then taking out a pre-paid funeral plan may be wise. 
Funeral Inspirations has reviewed all the main providers of UK funeral plans to make picking the right provider and plan for you easier.