Cremation versus Natural Burials – Which is Better for the Environment?

Cremation and natural burials are both touted as eco-friendly methods of laying the departed to rest, but which of the two is the more environmentally-sound choice?

Both have their drawbacks regarding eco-friendliness, for example mercury is emitted during cremations when fillings are burned and natural burials occupy precious land space, but then again, both have benefits for the environment also.


Chances are you’re more familiar with cremations than natural burials because they’ve long been a popular choice as a means of disposing of one’s earthly remains in a dignified manner by reducing the bodies of the departed to calcified bones to be pulverised into ashes and stored in urns.

The process of cremating a body is anything but simple and involves high temperatures – up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit/1,093 degrees Celsius – and in the process releases around 600 pounds of carbon dioxide in addition to mercury emissions.

Natural burials

Also known as ‘green burials’, natural burials are a popular choice amongst environmentally-conscious individuals looking to minimise the impact their departure from the world has on the environment.

Natural burials comprise many shades of green. At one end of the ‘green spectrum’ are burials involving an unembalmed body being wrapped in a shroud that biodegrades along with the body over time in a plot in an unmarked grave where it will result in minimal impact upon the environment, whilst at the other end of the green spectrum can be found burials involving bodies placed in bio-degradable coffins and buried in modestly marked graves.

Weighing up the pros and cons

In addition to your personal beliefs about what should happen to the human body after people depart this world, including yourself naturally, if you’re to decide which is the better option, cremation or natural burials, you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons.

The benefits of cremations and natural burials

  • Cremations save precious land space
  • Natural burials can help to preserve woodland
  • Cremations prevent toxins entering the soil and water sources
  • Natural burials don’t require maintenance
  • Urns used to store the remains use less materials than coffins
  • Natural burials recycle the bodies laid to rest

The disadvantages of cremations and natural burials

  • Natural burials still occupy precious land space 
  • Cremations release harmful emissions
  • Toxins can leak from naturally buried bodies into the soil and water supply 
  • Cremations require the use of non-renewable fossil fuels like gas

Whilst there are both pros and cons to cremations and natural burials, there are always developments taking place that have the propensity to enhance their eco-friendly qualities, for example resomation, which is like a cremation without the use of heat, and woodland burial grounds that aren’t located near underground water sources.

Until the pollutant effects of natural burials on underground water supplies are fully understood, as is the case with the positive benefits of ‘green cremations’ which use lower heat and eco-friendly urns, those putting into writing their wishes for those who’ll be organising their funerals when their time has come to depart this world are encouraged to go with whichever they deem to be the best choice, both for themselves and for the environment.

Additionally, they might also like to consider their other options, as it would seem that the green spectrum is forever expanding to comprise more shades of green.

Corpse compost

Yes, the name sounds horrifying and there will surely be a better name given to it soon, though this is actually a very green method of returning the bodies of the departed to the earth and involves turning the body into soil and planting a tree in it.


The body of the departed is frozen in liquid nitrogen, exposed to a light vibration that disintegrates it into an environmentally-friendly powder and a vacuum chamber takes care of any mercury, metal or water that remains.


This green method uses alkali, pressure and water to decompose the body without the use of heat.

These methods, along other alternatives to traditional burials, are fast increasing in popularity and should be considered, along with cremation and natural burials, as a means of reverently disposing of your earthly remains when you depart the world.

Author: Jorge Jaeger is a writer who works freelance for GreenAcres Woodland Burials, a company dedicated to helping those who are organising funerals and burials at woodland sites. They have many burial parks to choose from.



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