Cremations are big on the West Coast. California has the highest number of cremations in the country with just over 130,000 annually, or 56 percent of deaths in the state (CANA 2010). It was also ranked third in CANA’s list of top states for cremation growth: Cremations grew by 5 percent over a four-year period.

It’s not difficult to see why the majority of Californians choose cremation over traditional burial. Factors including religious acceptance of cremation, more relocations, lower costs, and the desire for flexibility and green alternatives have driven the majority of the state’s residents to select cremation for their end-of-life service.

Green Cremation Trend

California is known worldwide as a state that values the environment as well as technological advances, and cremation offers Californians just that. Many people opt for cremation as a greener alternative to burial, the latter of which typically involves embalming chemicals, the disruption of land for burial plots, and precious materials to make caskets, headstones, and other memorial objects. In contrast, cremation allows for a quicker natural return to the earth. Scattering services, biodegradable urns, and “upcycled” cremation ashes allow families to remember a loved one in an environmentally responsible way.

Advanced Cremation Technology

Cremation facilities use the latest technology to provide a safe and straightforward service. Computer-controlled cremation chambers, computerized identification tags, and other security measures create a smooth process and reassure family members. Additionally, the cremation industry is looking for new ways to improve the cremation process and reduce the ecological footprint of the practice even further. “Alkaline hydrolysis” is a new technology gaining popularity that provides a liquid cremation and reduces energy consumption. As new cremation technologies emerge, the process will become more effective and ever more common.

Unique Cremation Memorials

Another major factor driving Californians to choose cremation is the flexibility it provides for memorializing a loved one. During or after a cremation, California families choose to remember their loved ones in a number of memorable ways. These include everything from a simple burial-at-sea service to an elaborate “life celebration” that resembles a wedding or other large-scale affair. Others choose more unique options, including having cremated remains shot into space or turned into tattoo ink.

The cremation rate in California is expected to reach nearly 63 percent by 2016. While other states like Washington and Oregon have already surpassed those figures, California’s embrace of cremation is sure to influence a number of other locales to follow suit.