Cremation or burial?

When planning your own funeral, or when a loved one passes away, there’s a lot to think about and a lot of important decisions to be made. One of those decisions is regarding what happens to the body after the funeral service has been held.

The main choices made by Australians are to bury or to cremate the body. While burial has been the popular choice in the past, in recent years cremation has become the choice for many Australians.

Research conducted in 2014 showed that two thirds of Australians would prefer to be cremated than buried, while only 20% preferring a burial (14% didn’t have a preference). Reasoning behind this choice has been due to factors such as pricing, circumstances of death, religious doctrine and personal preference.


What is cremation and how does it work?

Cremation is the burning of the body until all that remains become ashes, and takes place within a crematorium (usually located within a cemetery).


How is a body prepared for cremation?

The body must be properly prepared by the mortuary staff before being cremated. This includes the removal of anything that could potentially damage the cremator, such as pacemakers. They body is then placed in a coffin and transported to the chosen crematorium.

Upon arrival, technicians will fill in the paperwork to ensure that the body has been properly identified to ensure the ashes will make their way to the family at the end.

Once the paperwork has been checked, the coffin is placed on a conveyor belt which will move the coffin into the cremator. Cremation is carried out at temperatures ranging between 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

After the cremation has finished, technicians will remove any metallic material such as coffin handles and hinges that survived the burning process. The remains will be ground into a finer powder and placed into an urn for collection.


How long does it take to cremate someone?

Cremations can last between two to four hours, depending on the size of the body. Technicians monitor to ensure no difficulties arise during the process.


What is a burial and how does it work?

Burials involve the placing of the body into the ground in a below ground burial or an above ground location such as a vault or crypt.


How to find a burial plot?

A burial site might have already been pre-arranged, but if you are not sure your funeral director will be able to help you locate it or secure a spot.


How is a body prepared for burial?

The process starts with embalming. Embalming is a process that involves replacing bodily fluid and blood with a formaldehyde-based solution. This is performed to preserve and disinfect the body.

The embalmed body will then be placed inside of the coffin ready for burial.


Which is the best option? 

This is going to be a purely personal decision, but there are some factors that may influence which one you choose.


How much does a cremation cost?

This will vary depending on the preferences of the family and the additional services beyond the cremation itself. A cremation package that includes a funeral service with coffin, celebrant, flowers, hearse and cremation could start from around $6,000. How much is spent depends on whether existing inclusions such as the coffin and flowers are upgraded as well as any other additional extras.

For just a cremation (called a direct cremation), package costs can range from $1200 to $3,500 depending on which state you live in. To have a direct cremation means no family are present for a viewing or service.

What can make cremations increase in price is deciding what to do with the ashes afterwards. You can memorialise your loved one in a cemetery or memorial park to give you a special place to visit however the memorial option you choose can vary in price. Scattering ashes generally won’t cost you anything.


How much does a burial cost?

Available land for burial plots in cemeteries are in short supply which in turn impacts cost. This is mostly due to burials taking up a lot of space as land is an expensive commodity in an increasingly urbanised society like Australia’s. The cost can come in at around $19,000 including all expenses involved such as the funeral director’s costs, cemetery space and headstone.

While there are cheaper burials around, they may involve transporting the body well out of town to an area with cheaper land or a small, basic headstone


Religious considerations 

Funeral traditions of different religions may influence the decision as to whether to opt for a burial or a cremation.


Can Christians be cremated?

This depends on the branch of Christianity, as some are more open to the practice than others.

  • Anglicism - Yes
  • Catholicism - Yes, but only after the funeral
  • Baptist - Yes
  • Eastern Orthodox - No
  • Lutheran - Yes
  • Presbyterian - Yes, but not preferred by the Church
  • Methodist - Yes

Do other religions allow cremation?

Muslims do not cremate their dead and it is not acceptable within the Islamic faith. Muslims believe that the loved one should be honoured and respected in death the same way they were in life.

In the Jewish faith, the views on cremation vary with the type of Judaism: the more conservative branches won’t allow it, whereas more progressives ones will.

Hindus are usually cremated as they believe that only the physical body dies, the individual soul has no beginning or an end. The soul may pass to another body through reincarnation, depending on one’s karmas.

For Buddhists they may choose to be either buried or cremated however cremations are the more common choice.


Environmental impact

You may hold concerns for how your passing will affect the environment, and the reality is that both burials and cremations have negative impacts on the planet.

The extremely high temperatures and long time required to cremate a body, this process consumes an incredible amount of power and omits a lot of pollution from the gas and the mercury pollution from dental fillings.

Burials are not a completely ‘green’ solution either. They required lots of space, which means the removal of vegetation and disruption wildlife. Gradual decomposition of the body has also been known to pollute water supplies as the chemicals used in the embalming process escape the confines of the coffin.


The choice on whether to go with a burial or cremation is a personal one. Whatever you decide, it is recommended you talk to your friends and family about your wishes. Having these preplanned and documented to share with them can give them guidance as well as peace of mind during a difficult time.

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