FSE already knows through previous research studies that those left behind don’t all feel the same way about cremated remains. Whether they feel connected or totally disconnected to them or whether they prefer to keep them or scatter them. But we were keen to explore current views a little further to understand to what extent attitudes may be changing. We commissioned a survey of 1,500 UK adults on how they view cremated remains. What meaning ashes hold, what next of kin do with them, and also how environmental considerations may shape their use.

  • The vast majority of us (over 80%) who arrange or are involved in arranging a cremation, say ashes are meaningful in some way or indeed are very important. Less than 20% say ashes are unimportant and “just ashes”.
  • With approximately 2.7kg of ash created from each cremation process and 79% of UK deaths (669,000 in 2021) resulting in cremation, the UK produces around 1.4 million Kilo mountains of ash each year.
  • The fact that other recent insight tells us that 61% mistakenly believe that cremated ‘ashes’ are somehow positive for the environment will lead to future conflict as awareness grows (of the toxicity of cremated ashes) amongst the 79% of consumers who say they prefer a more environmentally friendly funeral.

Ashes are ashes – you just scatter or inter

  • Funeral directors don’t need to be told that funerals have evolved – but until recently change was at a glacial pace.
  • Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly, and in almost every aspect of funerary tradition. What we do with mortal remains is no different with more personal, environmental, and portable solutions increasingly available. Scattering or interring of ashes at the crem might still be the most popular destination for ashes but only just and perhaps not for much longer.
  • It’s certainly not the most pressing question for a funeral director at the time of arranging a funeral, but there are clear signs consumers want more choice and control over what happens to ashes.

…so, what are consumers doing with all of that Ash?

  • The most common destination is still to bury or scatter ashes at a crematorium with 30% (over 150,000 families) choosing to do this each year.
  • But almost as many are trying to find a more meaningful destination for their loved ones – wanting ashes returned so they can have a final goodbye in a place that was special to them. Maybe a favourite river, beach, or walk.
  • And perhaps linked to greater environmental considerations; burying ashes and planting a living memorial (tree or plant) is growing in popularity with 14% (around 75,000 families) now choosing this route.
  • Just over 1 in 10 (11%) want the ashes close to them or can’t decide what to do with them, so keep them at home.
  • As we saw at from the 2021 National Funeral Exhibition, there are an increasing number of firms (such as Ever With, Hand On Heart Jewellery, Remembrance Glass and Scattering Ashes) offering solutions for families to convert ashes into ‘something special’ – which can be personal, portable and permanent. Whilst still at relatively low levels (6.1%) we expect this upward trend to continue and as ‘celebration of life’ trends overtake more traditional views and practices.
  • And finally, there are still those (4%) who never collect ashes – leaving them uncollected in funeral director homes or crematoria.
Scattered or buried at crematorium 30%
Scattered or buried somewhere special inc garden 30%
A tree/plant in memorial 14%
Kept some/all at home 12%
Turned into something special 6%
Left them at Funeral Director/crematorium 1%
Other 4%

Give more choice and control to the consumer

  • In reality, when grief is at its most raw, during the funeral arrangement process, families are mostly focussed on the funeral and not what to do with the ashes of the person who died.
  • From previous research we know most families prefer to make a decision about what to do with ashes after the funeral, but by that time it might be too late – as the ashes may have already been scattered. So, it’s likely many of the 150,000+ who scatter or bury their ashes at a crematorium would rather do something more meaningful.
  • Hence, forward-thinking FDs are giving more choice and control to consumers by suggesting a return of ashes and signposting more meaningful, sustainable destinations and options. Whether scattering in a special place, planting a natural and “living” memorial, or turning them into something special.
  • Planting or scattering ashes at crematoria is also not without environmental issue. Private crematorium and local authority owners are realising that their grounds and plants are often suffering from the long-term negative impacts on root structures caused by high Sodium and pH levels in cremated human remains.

Environmental considerations of plant memorials

  • Planted memorials are an increasingly popular option as a memorial to a loved one – but no one wants that memorial to fail whether planted in a crematorium, a special place or their own garden. Or to feel like they are doing more damage to our fragile environment.
  • A solution to this issue does exist in the form of an organic soil blend which can balance the negative effects of cremated remains and encourage plant growth. This soil blend, developed by Living Memorial (a Nottinghamshire based company), is gaining popularity amongst increasingly environmentally aware consumers and also gaining traction with crematoria owners seeking to mitigate risk or reinvigorate damaged grounds. FSE has seen in numerous research studies a significant shift away from permanent, fixed and environmentally negative uses for our mortal remains towards portable, sustainable, and personal solutions.
  • FSE believes rapidly changing consumer behaviour provides the sector with many different challenges and opportunities; in particular the ability to offer more meaningful, sustainable solutions to help next of kin to retain a physical connection with their loved ones.
  • We expect a future where ashes are more likely to be shifting rather than mounting and consumers will increasingly seek those more meaningful solutions, whether scattering, planting or turning mortal remains into something special.
  • And one final thought is that in 2023 the UK will finally see a new form of disposal Alkaline Hydrolysis (Resomation – which also produces mortal remains) and maybe organic dispersal/composting to follow in the near future after that – we may even be at the very beginning of a gradual decline in those choosing cremation.
For more information please contact simoncox@funeralsolutionexpert.co.uk