The Business Of Burial And Cremation

By Anita Jaynes on 3 December, 2020

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It’s a part of life that most of us don’t think about until we must, and it’s one of the most meticulously planned events that we will ever be a part of. Saying goodbye to a loved one is an emotional process, but it’s also a business. In the UK, the death industry is worth roughly £2 billion with over 20,000 people working in it in various capacity. In the US, it’s worth $16 billion, employing over 120,000 people. For the mourners, it’s a process that can cost nearly £10,000 in the UK. Here are three ways the money flows.

Choosing A Casket

Traditionally, coffins have been among the most expensive elements of a funeral or burial service. Or rather, they can be, depending on the design and the materials. In the US, where a funeral can often cost around $12,000, there is a tremendous push to convince consumers to buy the most ornate casket made of tropical wood or metal, inlaid material and metal attachments. They’re big business, both for the funeral homes, who make a huge chunk of their profits from their sale, and for the manufacturers, whose output ranges from functional to incredibly lavish works of art.

However, changing trends mean that the casket industry is facing some challenges. Now, 80% of people in the UK choose cremation over burial, meaning that mourners are opting for cheaper, more environmentally friendly coffins. Speaking of the environment, we’re also seeing greater numbers of green burials, many of which don’t use a coffin or headstone at all. In the US, the leading casket manufacturers are being forced to diversify if they want to stay at the top of the ladder, branching out into different services while continuing to sell coffins worth tens of thousands.


As we mentioned, cremation is by far the most popular method of being laid to rest. There are several theories as to why it has become preferred, one of which is the fact that the general population tends to be far more mobile than we were in past decades. The odds of a family living in the same city for long enough to commit to a full burial plot in the local cemetery are much slimmer these days. However, a huge factor has to be cost. In the UK, a cremation can cost around £800, and a burial typically costs at least twice that.

The temperatures used to cremate a body vary between 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius, with most cremations taking approximately 90 minutes to ensure the process has been completed fully. Filtration measures are also deployed to ensure the safe containment of any toxic or noxious gases. This is a huge amount of energy, so it’s not surprising that many crematoriums redirect it into the rest of the building to cut down on costs. It’s also not too surprising that there is a real push for a more environmentally friendly cremation process: we’re starting to see the first electric crematoriums here in the UK. When building a new crematorium, there are a lot of environmental factors to consider, from archaeology and groundwater to air quality and accessibility, and the CDS group is set up advise and assist on crematorium design and planning. They have over 18 sites across the UK and overseas, and their team of highly qualified specialists is ready to help with design and development.

Places Of Burial

The expenses don’t stop at the choice between casket or cremation. If your loved one has decided that they would rather be buried than have their ashes scattered, you may be facing a difficult choice and another hefty fee. In the UK, a funeral with a burial can cost nearly £5,000 and a significant chunk of that is down to the price you pay for internment. Some regions charge more than others. As you’d expect, London tops the charts for the most expensive region, although it’s been noted that the costs are rising much quicker in other regions (the price of a funeral rose by nearly 10% in the Midlands from 2018 to 2019).

The cost of a burial plot will also vary hugely depending on whether or not the deceased was a resident. A plot in Greenwich council in London can cost up to £2,000 if they were registered there, but if not, then you could be looking at up to £8,000. And, of course, a burial in a historic cemetery, such as Highgate or Kensal Green, will cost tens of thousands. Even as cremations become more and more popular, the demand for burial plots continues to grow, and newer cemeteries may offer less expensive options. However, a plot bought from a local authority will typically have exclusivity for between 25 and 100 years, at which point the owner will be invited to renew. The end of the service does not mean the end of the costs.