Most bodies in England and Wales are cremated. Public opinion tends to view burial as more ‘green’ than cremation and crematoria are not warmly spoken of, or well understood in terms of how they operate. We have explored how best to deal with the remains, often called ‘ashes’. Cremation will remain an important means of dealing with the body and its practice could be improved.

Key findings

  • Cremation at a local crematorium is not necessarily a bad choice environmentally or for us, if it’s easy for mourners to get to and well run. ‘Ashes’ are mostly ground bone and contain valuable minerals.
  • But these are not easily taken up by the soil – they can make a thick, salty, chalky layer which doesn’t help plants.
  • Spreading them thinly or mixing them with a balancing compost could help make them more helpful to the soil and plants.
  • An outdoor pyre can be a wonderful ritual and is not illegal. But there are restrictions in England and it hasn’t been publicly tested. Any fire produces particulates and this has become a problem in India.

We recommend

  • Take care where you spread cremated remains, respecting landowners.
  • Consider sharing small amounts amongst friends and places.
  • We should all support crematoria to operate efficiently, ‘holding over’ bodies if needed for 24 hours, so that as many as possible are done together and carbon-rich fuel is not wasted.
  • More research could be done on products that mix remains with things that make them more useful.

Our conclusion

Cremation is an ancient tradition the power and beauty of which have got rather lost in its modern incarnation. We anticipate more sustainable practices and better public knowledge about the practicalities of how it is done and its impact.

Read the research

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