Alternative Burial Options

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National Free Planning Kit

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If you are one of the millions who have realized the benefits of planning your burial in advance, you may be interested in the growing trend of alternative burial methodsA traditional burial of a casket in a plot is only one of many attractive options for your legacy. Read on to learn about the most popular alternatives. 

Natural Burials

In a traditional burial, embalming occurs and the casket is placed inside a concrete vault in the ground. If you skip those two steps, you have what’s commonly referred to as a ‘natural burial.’ People who choose this alternative burial method are interested in cost savings and/or to be buried in a more environmentally-friendly manner. To not only become one with nature but to actually aid in nature.

Allowing natural recycling in the soil is an alternative burial option that appeals to people because of its minimal impact on the environment. For example, caskets are almost always biodegradable in natural burials. They can be made from paper, compressed newspaper, cotton, or wood pulp. There’s also no vault involved. Vaults are typically made from resource-heavy concrete.

Here are a few specific types of natural burials. 

  • Woodlands burials. Woodlands burials take place in a natural woodland. The woodlands are managed by trusts, which also maintain “remembrance sites” for visiting families who wish to pray or reflect upon their loved one’s life. Often times a natural burial can be included with the planting of a tree, to help spread nature.  
  • Green burials. Green burials are not the same as natural burials and the two alternative burial options are often confused. A green burial can only take place in a specialized ‘green cemetery,’ whereas a natural burial can take place virtually anywhere (they are legal in all 50 states but check with local officials first, before making your plans). A green burial area of a cemetery is one which does not use artificial pesticides and which only allows natural burials. 


The percentage of people choosing cremation has grown steadily since 1960. According to Statista, 50 years ago only 4 percent of people chose this alternative method of burial, but today, around half the people in the United States opt for cremation.

Families have numerous options when it comes to what to do with cremains, which is the term for cremated remains. The most traditional option is to place the cremains in an urn and to have a burial service. Cremains are often placed in a columbarium, which is a special building usually found at cemeteries. Columbariums have niches that store urns and are marked with names and dates. Families may visit the columbarium niche just as they would the headstone of a traditional, in-ground burial.

Alternatively, cremains may be placed in a cremation casket and buried in the ground at a cemetery. A headstone may be purchased to mark the burial plot.

Families may also choose to keep their loved one’s cremation urn at home or scatter the ashes in cemetery’s scattering garden or elsewhere, in a way their loved one has designated. Here are some additional scattering options.

  • Burial at sea. Burial at sea isn’t just for Naval personnel. There are private companies that specialize in helping families fulfill their loved one’s wishes to have their ashes scattered at sea. These companies work with licensed sea captains to arrange private charters for families. Very often, the service they provide includes a special urn and a memorial certificate. They will also perform the service for you if you and other family members cannot attend. 
  • Eternal reef. Some folks are more in tune with the marine world than most. For those people, there’s the option of designating their cremains to become part of an artificial reef. Specialized companies will mix cremains with a blend of concrete to form heavy, perforated globe-like structures. These structure rest on the ocean floor in areas where natural reefs are endangered and in need of restoration. Acting as a structural foundation upon which new coral growth can take root, the so-called “eternal reefs” help support sea life by creating new habitats for the entire aquatic ecosystem. 
  • Space burial. People choose space burial for a variety of reasons, ranging from a love of science fiction to a deep desire to connect with the galactic world. As you might imagine, this is one of the pricier alternative burial methods thanks to the high cost of sending a rocket into space. 

Learn more about cremation options near you now.

Unusual Options

  • Donation to science. Instead of being buried at all, some people choose to give back by donating to science. This option is called “whole body donation,” and it helps doctors advance medical knowledge. Donation organizations will usually cover all the costs of transportation and, if necessary, cremation.  
  • Diamonds. Diamonds are made from compressed carbon. The same process that creates diamonds can be applied to cremains. Families typically have jewelry created from the ‘life gems’ of their loved ones. 
  • Cryonics. This is one of the most unusual alternative burial methods (and also one of the most expensive, even when compared to space burial). Cryonics refers to the process of freezing one’s body. People who choose this method often hope that someday science will advance enough that they can be revived. 

Your Family Should Know About Your Wishes

Burial is not an easy subject to talk about, but if you have specific instructions for how you’d like to be buried, it’s important to let your family know about them. You may find it useful to help them learn about the various types of burial so they can come to understand your wishes. You may also want to plan and even pre-pay for your preferred burial options in advance.

Whichever method you choose, from cremation to natural burial or even burial at sea, it’s good to know your family will understand your choice.

What Alternative Burial Options Are Available in Your State?

Alternative burial options available to you will ultimately depend on where you live and what cemetery you choose as your final resting place. We recommend first choosing a cemetery by searching for one near you now. After that, you can contact them and discuss all available burial options.