Once a traditional burial is completed the family may still be adjusting to their new normal, but the funeral process is done. When you choose cremation that isn’t the case. After the body is cremated the family will receive the remains of their loved one. That leaves many people wondering what to do with the cremated remains.
Cremation today isn’t like it was just a decade or so ago. Since 2015, cremation has been the most common end of life service. As more people choose cremation new uses for cremated remains have been developed. Now the options expand well beyond scattering remains and storing them in an urn.
The Stats: What People Do With Cremated Remains
A string of recent studies has found there’s quite a bit of variety in what people do with cremated remains. After all, having more choice and personalization is considered a benefit over traditional burial.
The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) carefully tracks both burial and cremation in the U.S. Their latest statistics for what happens to cremated remains show:
- 42% are returned to the family to keep
- 35.2% are buried
- 16% are scattered at a location outside of a cemetery
- 8.1% are placed in a columbarium
The one caveat here is that the NFDA has no way of tracking what family members do with the remains that are kept. However, a Choice Mutual survey holds insight into what people plan to do with cremated remains in the near future. Forty-four percent of respondents said they want to be cremated. When asked what they wanted to happen to their cremated remains:
- 40% wanted them spread in a specific location
- 36% wanted their family to keep them (including burial)
- 10% wanted their remains to be used to plant a tree
- 14% choose “Other” which can encompass any other use
The “Other” category is expected to continue trending upwards as new and innovative options are made available.
Another survey by FuneralOne revealed that there are two post-process motivators for choosing cremation over burial. Nearly a quarter of those who said they plan to choose cremation over burial (24.3%) did so because they want their remains scattered in a meaningful way. Another 14.8% of respondents prefer cremation because they want the remains to be kept by loved ones close to home.
Below we go into more detail about what can be done with cremated remains and how the options may change in the coming years.
Burying Cremated Remains
It comes as a surprise to some that burying cremated remains is very common.
Three factors stick out as the primary reasons for why cremated remains are buried.
Changes in Religious Practice
For hundreds of years, cremation was less common than burial largely because of religious practices. Hindu is one of the few religions that call for cremation, but there are a number of religions that frowned on the practice or prohibited it altogether.
In recent years, how Christian religions view cremation has changed. Most notably was the Roman Catholic Church’s decision to issue new guidelines on cremation in 2016. The Vatican stated that cremation was acceptable so long as the remains are kept in a “sacred place”.
For the most part that translates to “buried in a church cemetery”. The Vatican flatly prohibits scattering ashes, dividing them among family members and using them to create a physical memento. For devote Catholics that want to be cremated, burial after cremation is common.
One of the most commonly cited reasons for choosing cremation over burial is environmental concerns. Traditional burial is far from eco-friendly. Even though traditional cremation causes a certain level of air pollution and requires energy, it’s still far less impactful than burial.
However, the practice of green burial is completely different. Not only are more people opting for green burial outright, but they are also choosing it as a final resting place for a loved one’s cremated remains. In Texas, there are now a number of green cemeteries including Eloise Woods Natural Burial Park and Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery and Prayer Gardens.
Wanting a Final Resting Place
Some people don’t like the idea of a loved one decomposing in a burial plot, but having a final resting place is something of interest for many families. Burying cremated remains give families a memorial that can be visited by anyone, and some like that it serves as a historical reference for the family when there’s a marker or headstone.
Scattering the Remains
Scattering remains has long been the most common thing people do after a cremation. Cremated remains can be scattered on land or the water, but it’s important to understand scattering isn’t allowed everywhere.
Disney World is the perfect example. Countless families have gone to the park hoping to scatter their loved one’s remains in the happiest place on earth only to find it isn’t allowed. But scattering could be a problem even at a local park or lake.
If you are making advanced plans and want your remains scattered at a specific location check the regulations first. There are also memorial parks that are designed for scattering ceremonies. Scattering the remains at sea is allowed, but technically you’re supposed to do so three miles offshore.
If you plan to scatter the remains let the crematorium know beforehand. That way they can finely grind up the cremated remains so that they are easier to scatter.
Placing Cremated Remains in a Columbarium
If you’ve studied the history of cremation then you’re probably familiar with columbariums. They were widely used by the Greeks and Romans centuries ago.
A columbarium is a structure at a cemetery that is designed for the express purpose of holding cremated remains. These structures can be indoor or have an outdoor, open-air concept. Some columbariums encompass an entire building while others are a single hallway or room within a building.
Within the columbarium walls, there are cut-outs called niches where urns are placed. The niches can vary in size from compartments that are just large enough for an urn to sizeable cut-outs that can display memorabilia along with an urn.
Personally Storing the Cremated Remains
Compared to other ideas on the list, simply storing the cremated remains in an urn seems commonplace. It is in fact one of the most common things that happens to remains, and often it’s the wish of the deceased.
There are many styles and types of urns that can be used to permanently house remains. Personalized urns are very popular today as a way of expressing who a loved one was in life. There are also urns that are designed to hold the remains of multiple people.
Turning Cremated Remains Into Keepsakes
For those who buck tradition and prefer a keepsake, there are endless possibilities for what you can do with cremated remains. Below is just a small sampling of how a family can turn cremated remains into a keepsake:
- Shotgun Shells – Remains can be added to the gun powder for firing a round in tribute or going on the annual hunting trip.
- Vinyl Record – Create a list of your loved one’s favorite songs and turn them into a vinyl record made with the cremated remains.
- Piece of Pottery – Cremated remains can be kneaded into clay that’s used to make a vase, bowl or even an urn.
- Jewelry – From diamonds to glass beads, cremated remains can be used to craft a wide variety of jewelry.
- Paintings – There are artists that specialize in painting with cremated remains, or an artistic family member can mix a small amount into paint and do it themselves.
- Printed Portrait – Digital printing technology gives families a whole new way to memorialize a loved one. Pick an image such as a portrait or family group photo and it can be digitally printed using ink mixed with the cremated remains.
- Tattoo Ink – You can keep a loved one close forever by permanently putting the remains into your skin. Cremated remains can be added to specialty tattoo inks to create body artwork with a loved one’s name, initials, portrait or a meaningful symbol.
- Fireworks – Fireworks are a display of celebration around the world. If you plan to hold a post-cremation memorial to celebrate a loved one’s life it’s fitting to have fireworks made with their cremated remains.
- Rockets – If a loved one ever dreamt of being a space traveler you can make it possible after their death. A “space burial” sends a portion of the ashes into space. There are shooting star, moon landing and earth-orbiting options.
Using Cremated Remains to Conserve Nature
Cremation isn’t just a more eco-friendly process for handling the deceased. It actually allows for a person’s remains to promote the growth of natural habitats. Currently, there are two options for people who want to just that.
Biodegradable Urns With Saplings or Seeds
According to Choice Mutual, 1 in 10 people who plan to be cremated want their remains to be used to plant a tree. This day and age that wish can easily be fulfilled. There are special urns called bio-urns that can be implanted with either seeds or a tree sapling.
However, as we’ve noted before cremated remains aren’t ideal for growing a tree. But the Biotree Urn is one solution. Instead of the remains being directly mixed into the soil, cremated remains are encased in the urn, which has fertilizing materials that can lower the pH level of the remains so they are suitable for growing plants.
Artificial Coral Reefs
The death of coral reefs is troubling to many people around the world. Some are taking action by choosing to have their remains mixed with a concrete solution to create artificial coral reefs. The concrete mixture is formed to resemble a coral reef and then placed on the bottom of the ocean where it will serve as a habitat for aquatic animals and vegetation.
Conservation is our mission at Green Cremation Texas. We’re the first and only carbon-neutral funeral home in the state. We go to great lengths to reduce the impact of cremation without compromising client care.
Learn more about water cremation, the most eco-friendly end of life service available today.