Are We Running Out of Burial Space?

Posted on December 5, 2017 by Martin Oaks under Community, Memorial
Leave a comment

Warnings have been surfacing for the last decade or so. Given a variety of factors – including everything from the baby boomer population surge to the theory that the Earth’s surface is contracting – scientists and other experts have been warning that we are running out of burial space.

burial and cremation services

On a personal level, let us reassure readers that Martin Oaks is NOT running out of burial space. Nor do we anticipate anything like that occurring any time soon. We have over 1,000 well priced plots in our historical cemetery available for sale. Call us if you have any questions!

That, however, is not necessarily true everywhere, especially in some European countries.

Here is the United States, supply and demand have put certain areas of the country in tighter circumstances. According to our contact at the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, even short distances make a difference: if you want a plot in Manhattan, you may have problems; a short car distance away, no problem at all.

Urban planner Chris Coutts has done some research which suggest the potential seriousness of the problem. Approximately 76 million Americans will hit a life expectancy of 78 in the next 25 years. If all are buried in standard plots, an area the size of Las Vegas would have to be utilized. “We thought that space was infinite, but there are limits to the frontier,” says Coutts.

You do not have to look any farther than London, England or Germany to discover not only the nature of the issue, but also some creative methods of resolution.

Recycling, in the truest sense of the word, has apparently come to some European cemeteries. In this case, the term recycling refers to reusing graves that are almost done on a “guest rental basis.” The deceased is buried, allowed to rest in peace for 20-30 years, and then another cadaver is placed in the grave. If there are any remains from the original inhabitant, they may be re-buried at a deeper level as reverentially as possible.

Such is the same practice at some locations in England: central London is apparently close to full, as are other areas. Since building new cemeteries is virtually impossible, it has become a practice of sharing graves – even to the point of having headstones with different names on the front and back.

Part of the issue in England is that in the early 19th century, small church yards were forced to reuse their oldest graves; this practice has been modified, but apparently continues.

Another creative solution is a move toward digging burial plots as many as 20 stories down.

In the United States, as post WWII families moved to the suburbs, zoning and planning issues had the impact of limiting cemeteries. Not only were people reluctant to live next to a cemetery, but the ground space became increasingly expensive as demand grew.

Private cemetery owners face the other side of the economic issue: perpetual upkeep without income is difficult.

Fortunately, the great leveler on the horizon is cremation. Anyone who has followed these pages in the last few years knows of the startling growth of cremation in the United States.

Our friends at the Cremation Association of North America note that the national cremation rate in 1972 was 5%. By 2001 it was 27%, and by 2016 it was over 50%.

In some states the numbers of cremations are truly stunning: at least 6 states exceed 70%, while a number of others are above 60%.

In Canada in 2001, 47% of those that passed were cremated; today, the rate is over 70%.

In summary, burial will continue to be a viable option for those who have passed away — even though spaces may someday be at a premium. Our personal belief is that growth of cremation will offset shortage concerns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *