Today, what most of us consider a conventional burial is not a traditional burial. Throughout most of human history, families and religious communities have cared for their own dead. It was only after the Civil War and the advent of embalming that the modern funeral industry arose. Prior to this, most US funerals involved burial of an unembalmed body in a simple pine box. Today, this is known as a green burial.
Conventional burial has largely supplanted traditional burial. In a conventional burial, the body is almost always embalmed and is placed in a casket that is often times rather expensive and made from either metal or precious woods. The casket is then placed into a cement vault which lines the grave. The vault will keep the ground from sinking in so that the cemetery can maintain a manicured look and be easily mowed. If you are considering purchasing a conventional cemetery plot, please the FCA's Consumers Guide to Cemetery Purchases.
Conventional cemeteries also generally require large amounts of water, pesticides, and weed killer to be maintained.
Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:
- 827,060 US gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde)
- 90,000 tons of steel (caskets)
- 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
- 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets)
- 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
- 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
Compiled from statistics by the Casket and Funeral Association of America, Cremation Association of North America, Doric Inc., The Rainforest Action Network, and Mary Woodsen, Pre-Posthumous Society.
Many people have elected cremation as an alternative to conventional burial. However, green burials are becoming more popular and may be an excellent alternative to cremation for many. Not only are green burials traditional and performed in an eco-friendly manner, but they also have the ability to protect and steward land. Please see our webpage on green burials for more information.
Immediate (or direct) burial
In immediate burial, the body is buried shortly after death, usually in a simple container. What sets an immediate burial apart from a conventional burial is that there is no viewing or visitation involved in an immediate burial. Because there is no viewing or visitation, it is unnecessary for the deceased to be embalmed. However, it is important to note that even in the case of a conventional burial, where a viewing or visitation is held, embalming is rarely, if ever, needed. Refrigeration is an effective method to temporarily inhibit decomposition in both traditional and immediate burials.
A memorial service may be held at the graveside or later in the case of an immediate burial. Immediate burial usually costs less than the "conventional," full-service funeral. Costs generally include the funeral home's basic services fee, as well as transportation and care of the body, the purchase of a casket or burial container and a cemetery plot or crypt. If the family chooses to be at the cemetery for the burial, the funeral home often charges an additional fee for a graveside service. See our price survey results for immediate burial costs in your area.