Containers for Cremation

One of the common questions I hear is, “What are people actually cremated in?” And my answering is typically, “It depends.” Here is why.

When a body is cremated, it is placed in the cremation chamber (called a retort) in some type of cremation container. This is a fully combustible container that is sturdy and large enough to hold the body. That’s the big picture. But what container is chosen will depend on different factors including:

  1. The crematory’s standards
  2. Amount of money the family wishes to spend
  3. If there is going to be a viewing of the body or funeral with the body present.
  4. The size of the person being cremated.

Cremation containers range from a traditional-type casket to a simple cardboard container. The main thing that cannot be used is non-combustible materials such as metal handles or decorative emblems.

Common cremation containers

Crematories use what is commonly called a “cremation container” for typical cremations. They are rigid, corrugated (cardboard) boxes large enough to handle an average size body.

The purpose of the container is to provide a dignified means of storing the body prior to cremation and to literally contain the body while it is being prepared for cremation and when entering the retort. Made out of affordable materials, it provides an inexpensive cremation option for families.

In some situations, a simple cardboard container may not be an option. Frequently this occurs with larger sized individuals where a more sturdy material is needed. In these cases, the cremation service provider will supply an alternative container. These are typically only used when necessary. A small additional charge may apply as these containers are more expensive to purchase.

Cremation caskets

If a family chooses to have a funeral service with the body present prior to cremation, they may opt for a cremation casket. This enables the body to stay in the same container for the service and cremation. Some cremation caskets have hardware on them that can be easily removed while others can be used just as they are designed.

Cremation caskets range from very simple wood containers to ornate works of art. They are made of wood or other natural materials such as wicker or bamboo. Some are covered with fabric as well.

Rental caskets

Some funeral homes offer rental caskets although it is not overly common. In these situations, the casket is used for the service only. Depending on the situation, it can save money or provide a nicer casket than what the family might be willing to spend to purchase one.

In rental situations, typically a cremation container will be placed inside a casket shell including a mattress, pillow and overlay. When the service is over, the cremation container is removed from the casket frame and taken to the crematory. If the family is considering renting a casket, they should check with their funeral home or cremation service provider to see if this option is available.

Additional options

If a family wants an alternative to standard cremation caskets, there are a couple of options. The first is looking at “green caskets”. They are typically made of natural resources that will be acceptable for cremation. Another casket category is Jewish caskets (also called arons). Although designed for Jewish funerals, these caskets are made entirely out of wood so they can be cremated.

Selecting the right container

Reputable cremation service providers will openly discuss your options with you. I have heard stories of funeral homes encouraging the purchase of a more expensive cremation container but it is truly up to the purchaser. Knowing your options is the best approach for making informed decisions. Deciding if the body will be present at a service, knowing if the family takes greater comfort having their loved one cremated in a more ornate container, or believing the standard container is sufficient can impact your decision.

From my personal experience, over 95% of the cremations we conduct in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Waco  as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles use standard cardboard cremation containers. This high percentage is directly related to my focus on direct cremations.

Loved ones who have questions or are having difficulty deciding what type of container should speak to their funeral home or cremation provider.

Mary Beth Barnett

About Mary Beth Barnett

Mary Beth Barnett is a licensed Funeral Director in Texas. Her involvement with aCremation began before our doors opened – researching how we could provide affordable cremations and still keep quality and service standards high. Through this process, she developed a passion for working with families who are going through one of the most stressful phases of life – planning for death.

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