Know Your Funeral Options

Published on October 18, 2023

It used to be that everyone settled for a pine box in their back yard. Today, there are four different funeral options available within the United States. You are likely familiar with burial and cremation; aquamation and natural organic reduction are two newer options that have become legal and growing in popularity within the last decade.

Simply put, burial is when the deceased is placed in the ground, usually in a coffin or casket and marked with a headstone. Sometimes, objects are included. Current practices often include embalming and either a concrete grave liner or sealed vault. The burial of loved ones dates back at least 100,000 years; although cemeteries are unique to more modern ancestors. One more recent variation is the green burial which ensures internment doesn’t prohibit decomposition through minimal environmental impact and habitat preservation.

Cremation, like burial, has been around a long time—since 3000 B.C. Modern cremation began just over 100 years ago. The first U.S. crematorium was established in 1876 and by 2019 more than 3,000 crematories handled 54.6% of all deaths. Cremation uses thermal heat and mechanical processes to reduce human remains to grey ash. These ashes may be stored in an urn or scattered in the environment (where allowed).

Aquamation, also called alkaline hydrolysis, is technically another type of cremation; however, aquamation uses a water-based process instead of flame. Although the process was originally patented in 1888, it’s only been available for humans in the United States since 2003 when the Mayo Clinic began using it. It became part of the funeral industry in 2011 and is currently legal in 28 states. Aquamation is considered a gentler, more environmentally friendly option than cremation.

Natural organic reduction (NOR), often referred to as human composting, first became a legal option in 2019; in fact, Washington State was the first location in the world to permit it. NOR turns human remains into fertile soil that can be used or scattered elsewhere. Considered a green funeral option, NOR prevents harmful chemicals being released and provides nutrition for plants and trees that reduce carbon dioxide. Only a handful of states allow human composting; in January 2023, those included California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and, of course, Washington. A handful of other states are considering adding it to their options.

Since each state has its own set of laws governing what is acceptable for final rest, make sure to check in with your local experts. Knowing the different types of funeral options ensures that you can discuss it clearly with them and your loved ones.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from, Triguard, the Green Burial Council, the Cremation Association, WebMD, and the Federal Trade Commission.