Cremation numbers are rising and have been since the 1960s in most of the United States. Below we will look at the reasons for this and the trends that are impacting the cemetery, crematoria and funeral home industries today, and into the future. The growing popularity of cremations has seen revenue fall for many cemeteries which are now struggling to maintain their grounds with minimal annual burials. However, there are ways your graveyard can still offer solutions for cremated remains.
Most parts of the world are seeing an increase in the cremation business, in the United States the national average has risen from 3.56% in 1960 to 48.6% in 2015, and it's projected to reach an average of 54.3% in 2020. Rates do vary based on location, the lowest rates being in the south, and higher rates in the west of the US.
The main reason attributed to this rise is the cost; cremations cost around a third the price of burials. However, there are other factors including changes in religious preferences – not that long ago the Catholic Church forbid cremations, other religions also strongly prefer burial as they believe the body must remain intact for the spirit to leave, but these beliefs are changing. Another factor is the decline in nuclear families; many families are now geographically disparate and neither work or live when they grew up. In these cases the idea of setting a body in a physical place does not appeal, ashes are much more portable. The cremation business in 2019 is still changing and evolving.
As mentioned above, the idea of fixing your deceased loved on to a set geographical location brings challenges for most families. Often the most accessible site may not be related to the location of the family home, or where the deceased spent most of their life. For many families, it makes little sense to bury their parents or grandparents in a location no one will visit.
In this instance, cremation allows many more options; the ashes can be interred and possibly relocated at a later date – and much more easily than exhuming a body. Ashes can be distributed at a location that meant something but meaning no ongoing maintenance or upkeep for the family. Ashes can even be distributed among family members. Alternatively, the ashes can be refashioned into any number of amazing things as we will discuss below.
Traditionally we think of the cremation business and the end product being ashes, and this is still mostly the case. However, interring or spreading of ashes are not your only options left available now. Refashioning ashes into something more desirable has become a growing business. Ashes can be multi-purposed into many items, including candles, glass wear, jewelry, tattoo ink – there is almost no limit to the imagination of how you can eternally commemorate your loved one.
Ashes can also be placed in forests and gardens by being planted in the earth below trees and plants to offer a living memorial. Alternatively, the cremation business in 2019 can see ashes used in the construction of artificial reefs, rocketed into space, made into fireworks, and much more.
The water cremation industry has had several setbacks in the last few decades, but it is now an option for many states of the US. The formal process is called 'Alkaline hydrolysis' and has been used albeit rarely, for centuries to dispose of animal and human bodies. It has many other names including aquamation, biocremation (though this term is also used for green burials), flameless cremation and as mentioned water cremation.
Instead of being burned, the body is placed in a pressure vessel with water and potassium hydroxide, and it is broken down into its chemical components. The end product is liquid which when sent through cremulator forms a white dust like powder which can be returned to the family. This liquid can also be used as a fertilizer. As with cremation, not all religious groups approve of this as suitable and respectful disposal of a body. Cremations are increasing but so are other options.
The cremation business is not going anywhere if anything; the options for different types of cremation like water cremation will continue to increase as public demand grows. While some religious groups may continue to challenge the sanctity of cremation, they are often facing their own challenges with decreasing cemetery land available for burials, particularly in built-up areas – and the cost difference is a compelling one for many families.
As with embalming and burials, the focus on the environmental impact of cremations will continue to see debate and change practices and procedures. As with the demystifying of death in the future families may very well choose to stay for the cremation rather than just see a coffin disappear into curtains, though logistically this brings some challenges when you look at the practicalities of traditional cremation. Consumers want to know more, they are more open to discussions about death, and they are seeking a personalized experience.
The cremation business in 2019 is changing whether you like it or not, keeping up with these changes are the only way you can keep your business successful and competing in the new world. Each of these changes brings challenges, but for many, it could be as easy as making sure you expand your cemetery offerings to highlight if burial is not preferred, what other options are available onsite. Retaining the ashes in some capacity if the only way to maintain a revenue stream without a grave. Being educated about what is possible and asking your community what they want is going to help your business be successful.