Charles 3 Comments

“In the UK, the size and number of cremators at a crematorium are selected to enable the ‘duty’ to be accomplished within a normal working day and so the cremator is used for about 8 hours per day and then shut down until the next day. This is not an energy-efficient way of working, and cultural practices have been allowed to dominate at the expense of efficiency.”

Mortonhall Investigation Report 30 April 2014


  1. Charles


    That sounds logical but efficiency is far worse than suggested. Many crematoria have two, three or even four cremators. The crematoria have quiet days, particularly midweek as Friday fills up before the weekend and Monday takes those not able to get in by Friday. Cremator no.1 may do six cremations, but cremator no. 2 will handle the overspill, perhaps one cremation, or two. It will operate for three hours at best. Large numbers of cremators do one cremation each day, and use more gas to pre-heat the cremator than they do for the actual cremation.

    The only way to cremate efficiently, is to put around eight cremations each day through a single cremator, each day, every day, an average operational time of twelve hours. That would complete 40 cremations per five day week, around 2,000 pa, which is some way above the average for most crematoria. To do this it is essential to ‘hold over’ bodies in a fridge, for a day or two. That enables the busy and quiet days to be balanced out, or not to cremate at all on one or two days each week. Consequently, the cremator technician can arrive at work at 8am, the computerised cremator will have pre-heated itself, and a body can be taken from the fridge and cremated. The cremator can then operate from 8am to 8pm, and with short nighttime rests, the cremator is still extremely hot the next day and needs little pre-heating. Only a small number of municipal crematoria do this. They have by far the lowest gas costs, and the lowest emissions. In most cases, after three or four cremations the cremator will be heat soaked and virtually no gas will be used for the remaining cremations that day. That itself reduces emissions to those living in the vicinity.

    This process separates the services in the chapel(s) from the actual cremations, which the only efficient operation. If the bodies go into the fridge after the funeral service then, in theory, it matters not one jot when the service takes place, day or night, Saturday or Sunday.

    Not a single private crematorium admits to holding over bodies or mentions anything regarding the environment on their website. Many municipal crematoria are little better but a small number, mostly Charter for the Bereaved members, have perfected the process, which I introduced when I managed Croydon Crematorium. Most recent private crematoria, mainly rural, do very low cremation figures, say 800 to a 1,000 cremations each year and must have an appalling efficiency record as they complete a total of only 3 or 4 cremations each day. The gas costs are cheaper than the staffing cost! In an age of global warming, this casual approach to cremation efficiency is a national disgrace.

  2. Charles

    Thank you, Ken. This confirms my uneducated hunch that cremation in Britain is accomplished extremely inefficiently. The present spate of crematorium building (all private, of course) is only serving to make things worse. All this talk of funeral poverty and all these comings-together of the great and the good to sort it out, and none of them can see the obvious: the cost of cremation is inflated by this inefficiency.

    It’s really good of you to take the time to lend authority to what are otherwise no more than amateur ramblings. I’m extremely grateful.

    1. Charles

      I’m grateful for that too, Ken, as funeral poverty is a bugbear of mine.

      In my opinion, the cost of disposing of a body hygienically, as the law demands, should not have to be borne by the family of the dead person’s body in the first place. The disposal problem belongs ultimately to the public health authority who (rightly enough) make this demand in the interests of public health; dumping the cost on involved relatives at their time of lowest resistance, whose real concern is not the hygienic benefits of the disposal itself but the accompaniment of the disposal with essential family ritual, is a low trick. If the cremation costs had to be met from the public purse, the authority may be a little less uninterested in crematorial inefficiency and the cost would come down.

      Even if the cost were as high as £500, it would only work out at about 20 pence a week in national insurance or tax contributions over a working lifetime per cremation and, along with the abolition of ‘ash cash’, or ‘stiff drink money’ for doctors’ christmas parties, it would halve funeral poverty at a stroke.

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