According to the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA), the cremation rate in the U.S. recently surpassed burial and is expected to reach nearly 80% by 2035 (up from just 25% in 1999). As most families don't experience a death too often, many people do not understand how a cremation works, what a cremation costs, what cremated ashes include, and what memorial and cremation urn options are available for them or their loved one.
The process associated with cremating a person’s body has evolved over time. In ancient times, it was common to simply place the body of the deceased on top of a funeral pyre, which is an outdoor wooden structure designed to hold a body. Then, they would set the wood structure on fire to perform the cremation.
In modern times, cremators or large furnaces are used to perform cremations. These have chambers with thick insulated walls where the body is placed and reach temperatures ranging from 1500 to 1900 degrees Fahrenheit. Modern day cremators have control systems that help an operator monitor the cremation process and make them aware of any temperature fluctuations, or any other issues that may arise with the system during the cremation. It typically takes about two hours to perform a single cremation, however, this can vary depending on the make and model of the cremator used and the size of the body being cremated (larger people can take longer).
What are Human Ashes?
The body is primarily made up of water, carbon and bone. When a body is cremated, the high temperature eliminates tissues, organs and other organic matter through vaporization and oxidation. The heat during the cremation process also evaporates any water present in the body. Gases, mainly from carbon and sulfur, are released from the cremator through an exhaust and fan system.
After a cremation is performed, bone fragments remain. These are left alone for about 30 minutes to an hour to cool, and they are then passed through a magnet to obtain any remaining metals (fillings in teeth, implants, etc.). The bone fragments are then processed which reduces them to a denser, granular form with a grey color. The resulting cremated ashes from an average sized adult are typically four to six pounds, however, there can be more or less depending on the person’s skeleton size and bone density.
No Health Risk with Ashes
After a cremation is performed no organic material will be present. Therefore, there are no health issues posed by human ashes for people or the environment. The resulting remains after a cremation consist of a skeletal structure, minerals and salts. The human skeleton, containing calcium phosphate and carbonates, remains after the cremation, where other body tissues are eliminated. In addition, due to the high heat from the cremator, there is very little trace of the biodegradable container that the body was placed in for the cremation
Unique Elemental Footprint
There are various elements present in a person’s cremated ashes, including strontium, chromium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, and iron, among others. Similar to how no two people are exactly alike while alive, no two bodies of the deceased are alike. Each set of cremated ashes has unique element levels, making them unique to each person. The element levels vary depending on the person’s diet, habits, the water they drank, and environment where they lived. These elements are absorbed by the skeletal system of a person over a lifetime, which leaves a unique and distinct elemental footprint or elemental signature of that particular person in their ashes.
Memorial Options After Cremation
With the growing interest in cremation, there are many new and uplifting memorial options available that incorporate a person’s ashes. This includes using a tree urn to grow a memorial tree, a scattering urn to scatter ashes at a favorite place, a burial urn to bury ashes at a special location, a water urn to perform a burial at sea, a firework to show a brilliant display of colors, a decorative glass piece that is infused with ashes, and jewelry that incorporates some or all of a person’s ashes, among others.
The Living Urn’s patented bio urn and planting system has become a leading choice of families and funeral homes worldwide. This proprietary system comes with everything a family needs to make it easy to grow a beautiful and enduring tree memorial that honors a loved one and gives back. This includes a special biodegradable urn that holds up to one set of cremated ashes (although families can include just a small amount of ashes if preferred), soil additives, mulch, detailed planting instructions, an attractive bamboo urn case and a 2 to 4 foot young tree of choice. The Living Urn offers over fifty tree varieties with a tailored menu of best suited options for each zip code. Tens of thousands of Living Urns have been planted since it was introduced in 2015 and there are a significant number of positive five star testimonials and reviews from families all over the country who have planted a Living Urn to honor a loved one that has passed and give back.
One of the most popular options for families is to scatter a portion or all of a loved one’s ashes at one or multiple special places. This can include in the yard at home, a park, beach, mountain, and golf course, or other meaningful location. If scattering on private, state, or federal property, it is always recommended to get permission first.
With the number of people electing to scatter ashes of a loved one, there are some new scattering urns available that are specifically designed to scatter. This includes the patented Eco Scattering Urn, a biodegradable urn made from bamboo, a sustainable resource. This unique bamboo urn is easy to load and with its tube shape and unique top, gives families the ability to scatter with control and ease. Starting at $49, the Eco Scattering Urn is an affordable option for most families.
For families who live by the ocean or other body of water, water burials are a popular memorial option as many people have a special connection to the water. With a water burial, or burial at sea, a loved one’s ashes are scattered in the water. With the growing popularity of water burials, there are some new biodegradable urns available that are specifically designed to gracefully scatter ashes in water. This includes the Eco Water Urn, a patent pending biodegradable urn that is made from recycled plant materials. This special urn floats like a buoy and within a short time the ashes are freed and dispersed from the bottom of the urn. In addition, the Eco Water Urn comes packaged in a bamboo casing, perfect to secure the urn holding the ashes during transport and, with its attractive appearance, a great piece to be displayed in a ceremony.
Many families elect to bury some or all of the ashes of a loved one at a cemetery, at home, or other special place. Some choose to do this in a more traditional urn with a vault, however, a growing movement is using a biodegradable urn for burial. This includes the Eco Burial Urn, a patent pending cylinder-shaped urn that is made entirely from bamboo, one of the best eco-friendly building materials on our planet.