7 Reasons Cremation is Becoming America’s Favorite Last Act

The new popularity of cremation makes for new traditions, such as pressing your loved one's remains into a piece of diamond jewelry, or a record album, or a home for fish.

6. Environmental concerns

Cremation is relatively gentler on the environment.

“Embalming fluids, for example, are known to contaminate groundwater with mercury, arsenic and formaldehyde,” writes Encyclopedia Brittanica. Burials with coffins involve large amounts of chemicals, plastics, metal, wood and concrete, and they require much more land.

To be sure, cremation has some impact as well. Each cremation requires enough fuel to fill an SUV tank and, depending on the quality of a crematory’s air scrubbers, “primary emissions are made up of carbon monoxide and fine soot, but sulfur dioxide and trace metals may also be produced,” writes the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance. Critics also cite the potential release of mercury from silver amalgam dental fillings.

Chemical cremation, also known as “green cremation” may prove the answer. Explains the Donated Body Program at University of California, Los Angeles:

“Water, alkali (solution), heat and pressure are gently circulated over the body, causing a reaction that begins and completes the Bio Cremation process. The sterile process prevents the release of emissions into the atmosphere and helps protect the earth’s natural resources.

Creative handling of cremains

Cremation is encouraging new traditions and countless new ways of storing or disposing of remains, also known as cremains. You can have your ashes exploded in fireworks and fired from shotgun shells, pressed into vinyl records, made into jewelry and stored in a variety of ways. Here are a few options:

(States have different burial and cremation laws, which you can check here: Nolo.)

Family plots: Urns of ashes typically can be buried or housed above-ground in family plots along with the burial remains of other family members. You will find all manner of urns and memorabilia available, with themes that range from religious to sports.

Scattering ashes: Huffington Post’s Ashes to Ashes report describes rules and restrictions for scattering ashes. “Wildcat scattering” in disregard of rules is popular in public spaces, it notes. (The report uses graphics to illustrate cremation trends; its numbers may vary from ours because of differences in sources and age of the data cited.)

Columbarium niches and urn gardens: Cemeteries and memorial parks and gardens offer homes for cremation ashes, including columbaria (indoor or outdoor walls with niches for housing urns of ashes) and burial (interment, in the language of funeral directors) of ashes, above or below ground.

Ocean reefs: Eternal Reefs, a Decatur, Ga., company, incorporates cremains into “an environmentally safe cement mixture designed to create artificial reef formations.” For $2,495 to $6,995, your “reef ball” is placed at one of several locations along the Eastern seaboard or Gulf Coast to become a home for fish, coral and other marine life, the company says (read its description of the procedure). Families can take part in the casting of the reef ball and can attend the placement of the reef ball at sea aboard a chartered boat. Larger balls can hold cremains from two or more people at the cost of $25o extra each. Pet cremains are included free of charge.

Urns: You can spend a few dollars or several thousand on urns, boxes and other objects for keeping cremation remains at home. Some urns even include automated slide show displays or narrated videos, with a remote control.

Foreverence, a funeral products company in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, uses 3-D printing to allow customers to design urns in the shape of a favorite musical instrument or car, and even to “create a lifelike bust of the deceased,” according to this Associated Press article.

Wilde, the blogger, shows a customized cremation urn shaped like a male figure in this video (at 3:49). The head holds ashes, and its face can be customized to resemble the departed.

Jewelry and keepsakes: To keep a loved one close, you can choose among pendants and jewelry — cylinders, crosses, hearts and charms (angels, flowers, sports themes and memorial diamonds, for example) — to wear or display under a glass dome.

Memorial diamonds made from cremains cost around $3,000 and up, according to U.S. Funerals Online, which says:

A memorial diamond is an artificially created diamond made using the carbon DNA extracted from the cremated remains of a human being. The natural crystal synthesis that produces diamonds in nature is simply replicated in a laboratory with increased speed.

What decisions has your family made about final rites and burials? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More

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