Cremation is simply, to burn a body to ashes instead of burying it. This method is
used in many parts of the world. The practice has become even more prevalent in
the late 20th century.
Cremation takes place in Crematories, or Crematoriums, licensed facilities
equipped with an incinerator. Here casket and body are placed in a retort, or
furnace, and subjected to heat from 1600-2500 degrees F. (871-1371 C). In 2 to 4
hours only ashes or Cremains are left. Depending on the size of the body, the
cremated remains weigh about three to nine pounds.
Usually the ashes are put into an Urn, a vessel or a vase having a foot, used as a
receptacle for preserving ashes to be displayed. The urn is often placed in a
Columbarium, a vault with niches for many urns. Sometimes the ashes are
scattered at relevant locations; a sentimental spot, designated places, at sea or
As cremation has become more dominate in society, the need to have ways to
maintain remembrances has grown. Many companies have started to create more
creative, custom and hard-line products for storage of ashes. From fancy metal
urns, vases, to pottery, even humorous containers to give the survivors something
tangible to remember their loved ones . They have also even created lines for those
families that want to split up the ashes of a loved one between several family
members, reducing the size of the containers.
The percentage of cremations in the U.S. is rising every year because of the
considerable cost of traditional funerals, the declining space available for
cemeteries, and increasing concerns for the environment. In several areas in the
nation, particularly Florida, and the West Coast, cremation is the preferred method
Many of people throughout the U.S., choose cremation because they seek a
simple, dignified and affordable option. In England and Japan, where cemetery
space is at a premium, the cremation rate is close to 90%.
People choose cremation for a variety of reasons, including religious reasons, other
personal reasons, environmental reasons, and cost. Some people find they prefer
cremation for other reasons.
For some people it is because they are not attracted to traditional burial. The
thought of a long, slow decomposition process is unappealing to some, and they
find that they prefer cremation for that reason. Other people view cremation as a
way of simplifying their funeral process. These people view a traditional burial as
an unneeded complication of their funeral process, and thus chose cremation to
make their services as simple as possible.
Others prefer cremation for environmental reasons. Some are concerned that
during bodily decomposition body fluids and embalming chemicals could
contaminate the Earth. Some locations have found that long-buried bodies are now
causing groundwater contamination. Arsenic, used as an embalming chemical in the
19th and early 20th centuries, has been known to cause serious pollution later on.
Another environmental concern is that traditional burial takes up a great deal of
space. In a traditional burial the body is buried in a casket made from a variety of
materials. In America the casket is often placed inside a concrete vault or liner
before burial in the ground. While individually this may not take much room,
combined with other burials it can over time cause serious space concerns. Many
cemeteries, particularly in Europe and Japan as well as those in larger cities, are
starting to run out of space. In Tokyo, for example, it is almost impossible to find a
traditional funeral plot.
One item of concern has been that the exhaust systems of cremation ovens may
contribute to air pollution . In response crematorium manufacturers have built
computerized control systems that regulate the exhaust systems to keep
crematoriums from contributing to air pollution. Additionally some crematoria
remove all plastic handles and fittings from a coffin before cremation and these are
disposed of separately for the same reason.
The place where the cremation takes place is called crematorium. The crematorium
consists of one or more ovens or furnaces and facilities for handling of the ashes. A
cremation furnace is a large furnace capable of reaching high temperatures up to
approximately 1600-1800 degrees Fahrenheit (1600-1800 °F = 871-982 °C), with
special modifications to ensure the efficient disintegration of the corpse. One of
these modifications is the aiming of the flames at the corpse's torso, where a
majority of the corpse's mass rests.
The crematorium may be part of chapel or a funeral home, or it may be part of an
independent facility or a service offered by a cemetery.
The furnaces use a number of different fuel sources, such as natural or propane
gas. Modern cremation furnaces include control systems that monitor the
conditions inside the furnace while a cremation is taking place. The operator can
make adjustments to provide for more efficient burning, as well as ensuring that
minimal environmental pollution occurs.
A cremation furnace is not designed to cremate more than one body at a time, and
to do so is against the law in all 50 US states and many other nations.
The chamber where the body is placed is called the retort. It is lined with special
bricks to help retain the heat. These bricks require replacement after about five
years because of continual expansion and contraction due to temperature cycling.
Modern cremators are computer-controlled with safety devices and interlocks to
ensure legal and safe use, e.g., the door cannot be opened until the cremator has
reached the correct operating temperature. The coffin is injected into the retort as
quickly as possible to avoid heat loss from the top-opening door. The coffin may
be on a motorised trolley that can inject the coffin at speed, or one that can tilt to
tip the coffin down a slope into the cremator.
Crematoriums will allow relatives to view the injection and sometimes this is done
for religious reasons, e.g., Hindus. However, notwithstanding the respect with
which the deceased is treated, this is fundamentally an industrial process and not
recommended for the sensitive or faint of heart.
Cremators are a standard size. Large cities will have access to an oversize cremator
that can handle deceased in the 200+ kg range. However, the grossly obese cannot
be cremated and must be buried.
The remains are then sifted through to make sure the fragments are small enough.
A body to be cremated is first placed in a container for cremation, which can be a
simple corrugated cardboard box or a wooden casket. Most casket manufacturers
provide a line of caskets specially built for cremation. Another option is a
cardboard box that fits inside a wooden shell designed to look like a traditional
casket. After the funeral service the interior box is removed from the shell before
cremation, permitting the shell to be reused.
Funeral homes may also offer rental caskets, which are traditional caskets used
only for the duration of the services, after which the body is transferred to another
container for cremation. Rental caskets are sometimes designed with removable
beds and liners, replaced after each use.
Australia: the deceased is cremated in the coffin supplied by the undertaker.
Reusable or cardboard coffins are unknown. If cost is an issue a plain,
particle-board coffin known in the trade as a 'chippie' will be offered. Handles (if
fitted) are plastic and approved for use in a cremator. Coffins vary from unfinished
particle board (covered with a velvet pall if there is a service) to solid timber. Most
are veneered particle board.
Cremations can be 'delivery only' with no preceding chapel service at the
crematorium (although a church service may have been held) or preceded by a
service in one of the crematorium chapels. Delivery only allows crematoriums to
schedule cremations to make best use of the cremators, perhaps by holding the
body overnight in a refrigerator. As a result a lower fee is applicable. Delivery-only
may be referred to by industry jargon such as 'west chapel service'.
Crematorium chapels are increasingly sophisticated and may offer advanced AV
facilities for showing Powerpoint (tm) or DVD presentations of the deceased's life
during the service on large plasma screens, as well as video and sound recording of
Ways of keeping or disposing of the ashes
Ash is boxed with a plastic liner for the family to do as they wish, or placed in an
urn and sealed shut.
Cremains are returned to the next of kin in a rectangular plastic container,
contained within a further cardboard box or velvet sack. An official certificate of
cremation prepared under the authority of the crematorium accompanies the
Ashes can be kept in an urn, sprinkled on a special field or in the sea , or buried in
the ground. The final disposition depends on the personal wishes of the deceased
as well as their religious beliefs. Some religions will permit the ashes to be sprinkled
or kept at home. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, insist on either
burying or entombing the ashes.
Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, father, husband, etc.) of the
deceased to immerse the ashes in the holy river Ganges, preferably at the holy city
of Haridwar, India. The ashes may also be entombed, in case the deceased was a
well known person.
In Japan and Taiwan, the remaining bone fragments are given to the family and are
used in a burial ritual before final interment.
The Pyre Alternative
An alternative method used in some cultures, such as Hinduism, is burning the
corpse on a pyre . A pyre is a pile of wood upon which the deceased's body is
placed on top or inside of. The mound is lit on fire, the fire consumes the wood
and the deceased. This method is not commonly found in the western world where
crematorium ovens are used, and is forbidden by law in some countries.
Burning and ashes collection
Remains with large pieces are put into a machine, the 'cremulator', that grinds them
down to ash.
The box containing the body is placed in the retort and incinerated at a temperature
of 760 to 1150 °C (1400 to 2100 °F). During the cremation process a large part of
the body especially the organs and other soft tissue is vaporized due to the heat and
is discharged through the exhaust system. All that remains after cremation are bone
fragments, representing about five percent of the body's original mass, and the
ashes of the cardboard box or wooden container. The entire process usually takes
about two hours.
Jewelry, such as wristwatches and rings, are not removed. The only non-natural
item required to be removed is a pacemaker. The undertaker is required to sign a
declaration to the operator that any pacemaker has been removed. A pacemaker
could explode and damage the cremator. The undertaker will remove a pacemaker
prior to delivering the body to the crematorium.
After the incineration is completed, the bone fragments are swept out of the retort,
and the operator uses a pulverizer called a cremulator (also known informally as a
crembola) to process them into a consistent powder. The cremulator is essentially a
rotating drum similar to a spin dryer, except it is filled with steel ball bearings
whose disturbance powders the weakened bones.
In Japan and Taiwan, the bones are not pulverized unless requested beforehand.
This is one of the reasons cremated remains are called ashes although a technical
term sometimes used is "cremains". The ashes are placed in a container, which can
be anything from a simple cardboard box to a fancy urn. An unavoidable
consequence of cremation is that a tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the
chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.
Not all that remains is bone. There will be melted metal lumps from jewellery,
casket furniture, and dental fillings, and surgical implants such as hip replacements.
After grinding these are sieved out and later interred in common, consecrated
ground in a remote area of the cemetery.
Cost of Cremation
The cost factor tends to make cremation attractive. Generally speaking, cremation
costs less than traditional burial services, especially if direct cremation is chosen, in
which the body is cremated as soon as legally possible without any sort of services.
However, there is wide variation in the cost of cremation services, having mainly to
do with the amount of service desired by the deceased or the family. A cremation
can take place after a full traditional funeral service, which adds cost. The type of
container used also influences cost.
Cremation makes possible the scattering of remains over an area, eliminating the
need for and expense of a burial space. However, some religions such as Roman
Catholicism require burial or entombment of cremated remains, and while not
required the church does prefer that cremation take place after the funeral Mass.
Burial or entombment also adds to the cost. The price will depend on what the
deceased and/or the family has chosen. Cremated remains require far less space
than a traditional burial or entombment and cremation plots or columbarium niches
usually cost less than a burial plot or mausoleum crypt.
Environmental Concerns with Cremation
There is a growing body of research that indicates cremation is a significant impact
on the environment:
The major emissions from crematories are: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide,
sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen
chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, and other heavy metals, in addition to Persistent
According to the United Nations Environment Programme report on Persistent
Organic Pollutants (POP) Emission Inventory Guidebook, emissions from
crematoria, although comparatively small on an international scale, are still
statistically significant. The POP inventory indicates that crematoria contribute
0.2% of the global emission of dioxins and furans.
Persistent Organic Pollutants include Dioxins and Furans, PAHs, benzo(a)pyrene,
benzo(ghi)perylene, Benzo(k)fluoranthene, Fluoranthene, Indendo(123-cd)pyrene,
Benzo(b)fluoranthene, Benz(a)anthracene, Dibenz(ah)anthracene, PCBs (Nos.
126, 169, 77, 118, 105, 123, 114, 156, 157,167, 189), Hexachlorobenzene,
Toxaphene, Chlordane, Aldrin, DDT, Mirex, Dieldrin, Endrin,
Hexabromobiphenyl, Pentachlorophenol, Heptachlor, Chlordecone, Short Chain
Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCP), Lindane.
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