How Cremation Works


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know, from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, there's Charles W. Chuckers Bryant with a full beard, actually.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So you know what that would smell like if it caught fire?

Chuck Bryant: What it would smell like? It would smell like mayonnaise.

Josh Clark: it would smell worse than mayonnaise ever did.

Chuck Bryant: Jerry's in there like, blech.

Josh Clark: She doesn't like the smell of burning hair, huh?

Chuck Bryant: Or mayonnaise.

Josh Clark: Burning mayonnaise would be particularly bad if you had hair on top of it.

Chuck Bryant: You're burning hairy mayonnaise, is the worst thing you can burn.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, hopefully that will never happen while you're alive. It could possibly happen after you're deceased if you're cremated, like a fellow named Ralph White, who you know about.

Chuck Bryant: I've never heard of the guy.

Josh Clark: You have too, Chuck. Do you remember that horrid webcast we used to have?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: There's a guy -

Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah.

Josh Clark: - he was a president, past president of the Adventurers Club, and not to be confused with the one from South Park. This guy was a real life adventurer and he was - I think he was like a cameraman for a skydiving show called Rip Cord, National Geographic. He was there when they discovered the Titanic.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, he's buddies with Jim Cameron.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he was second director, I think on Titanic.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, who was - Jim Cameron was also in that blub, the little club in LA.

Josh Clark: That's right. Yeah, I'll bet Ralph White got Jim Cameron in.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, probably.

Josh Clark: And are we calling him Jim now? I didn't realize we were -

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: - on that friendly a basis with him.

Chuck Bryant: Jim or Jimmy.

Josh Clark: Well, anyway, Ralph White was - had a pretty cool post - not post-mortem, he had a very cool posthumous story. And that was he was cremated and his friends were so dedicated and loyal to him that whenever they go on a travel now, they take about a tenth - about a teaspoon or a tenth of a teaspoon, some very small amount of Ralph White's cremated remains and scatter them wherever they go.

Chuck Bryant: Pretty cool.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I think he's in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, he's in Lake Bacall.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: He went on a space flight. And Ralph White's posthumous adventures kind of illustrate all the wonderful things you can do with a cremated body.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Which is one of the reasons why people choose to be cremated. It's highly portable, right?

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: And it's nothing new, Chuck. Cremation's been going on for a very long time, hasn't it?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. We won't get in - I mean there's - we could rattle off every country and when they started, but -

Josh Clark: We really could, because of this fine, fine article -

Chuck Bryant: It's very detailed.

Josh Clark: - written by a freelancer, Michelle Kim.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: I've never heard of this person before!

Chuck Bryant: She killed it.

Josh Clark: - but this is a really great article.

Chuck Bryant: But it has been around since pre-historic times, China's been doing it since 8000 B.C.

Josh Clark: That's more than 10,000 years ago.

Chuck Bryant: More than 10,000 years ago. One part of the history I did find interesting though, and fitting since we did our Freemason cast, was the Freemasons during the French Revolution kind of pushed for cremation because it was the whole, not anti-religion, but just sort of mixing it up with religion.

Josh Clark: No, they were anti-Catholic Church.

Chuck Bryant: Well yeah.

Josh Clark: Very much against the Church. And they were saying, if you have yourself cremated, it's kind of like sticking your thumb up your ass to the church, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, well because Catholics said you can't get cremated for a long time.

Josh Clark: Yeah, well it kind of contradicts the whole resurrection thing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You know? Like the body's kind of got to be intact! It's like the one thing we can't do, you know. We can rise from the dead, but if you're burned -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, sorry.

Josh Clark: And you don't want to come back and find that you're nothing but ashes, because you're going to be ticked off, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right. The actual cremator, the cremation chamber, which I like to call the cremator, even though that's not right at all!

Josh Clark: Right, it sounds like a Krebstar product from the Adventures of Pete and Pete.

Chuck Bryant: It does. It was invented in the late 1800s by Professor Brunetti and it started in earnest in the United States in Pennsylvania in 1876.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And Pennsylvania's a non-licensed state still, which I thought was interesting.

Josh Clark: It is really? Well there's a little bit of a scandal that we'll talk about later. That apparently the crematory business you either have fine upstanding people or like scum of the earth -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - running these places, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Let's talk about how this works, all right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Well I got a stat for you real quick though. As far as it's popularity, in 1958 3.6 percent of bodies were cremated. And just a few years ago that number is at 34 percent. And they expect it to be half by 2025.

Josh Clark: Right. Well there's a lot of reasons why, right? I mean we're running out of land.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: There's a lot of people who think that burials aren't so green.

Chuck Bryant: Which is true?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Yeah, because they use like, you know, really nice woods and metals and you have to pour cement lining. And the body is embalmed, so it's going to eventually leak out all of those things, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Well we'll talk later about whether or not cremation's green. And the spoiler is, it's not.

Chuck Bryant: Sort of is, but it's not. Well it's not green, but.

Josh Clark : It's definitely not green.

Chuck Bryant: It's not brown either. It's not black. It's somewhere in between.

Josh Clark: So, Chuckers. You ready to talk?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, like just the actual process is pretty gruesome. Initially they store the body in a cool room just to keep it nice and fresh for the cremation. It's usually examined by a coroner and they have to like sign off and say this is good to go.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Because you can't exhume the body later on if you need to -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly.

Josh Clark: So, no accidental death that hasn't been fully vetted.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Like I imagine they wouldn't cremate like someone that had any kind of a relation to a crime or anything like that.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Or at least not for a long time. And then what happens is they remove some things from your body if you have the following: pacemaker, breast implants.

Josh Clark: I know.

Chuck Bryant: Silicone breast implants. Prosthesis or cancer seeds?

Josh Clark: The little radio-active seeds that they inject into a tumor and then, beeew, shoot with like a laser.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Or a radio frequency generator.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, all - none of this stuff is good for cremation. So they remove that from your body.

Josh Clark: But there's some things that can't be removed. Well they could remove it, but they tend not to, e.g. fillings, mercury fillings.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, jewelry and glasses. Like some people want, like you would be buried with your glasses on. They want you cremated with your glasses on.

Josh Clark: Right. But in some countries - I didn't look this up, so I don't know what countries, there are laws against anybody who's cremating a body from touching anything on the body.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: You gotta do it how you get it.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: That's what they say on the shirts you can buy like in a gift shop. And then they put the body, once it's been removed these things, into a flammable box, like a pine or cardboard box.

Josh Clark: Or one made of hairy mayonnaise.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Yeah, they slide it into - the incinerator's already pre-heated, by the way.

Josh Clark: Yes, to at least 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 593 degrees Celsius, I think, off the top of my head.

Chuck Bryant: yeah.

Josh Clark: And that's hot, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: It's gotta be hot.

Josh Clark: But that's not - like you don't just put the body in and then it just burns, it just catches fire, right?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: They actually shoot a column of flame at the torso.

Chuck Bryant: Like a jet engine.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Basically.

Josh Clark: So once the body's in - what's it called the retort?

Chuck Bryant: It's called a retort, they slide it in there on the old metal rollers and families, sometimes you can watch this process through the window, if you want.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And if you're Hindu, if it's a Hindu cremation, you can actually push go.

Josh Clark: Right, yeah, I guess to start the column of flame, right?

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: You're just like, so long Aunt Tina!

Chuck Bryant: So here's - Aunt Tina? The Hindu? So the door is sealed up, obviously, like you said, they aim it at your torso and then this is what happens. This is the gruesome part, as you would expect when you have a jet engine - jet flame shot at your torso.

Josh Clark: Um-hum.

Chuck Bryant: It ignites the container initially, obviously, your body starts to dry out, all that water that's in your body leaves.

Josh Clark: Yeah, pretty quick.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I would imagine. Your soft tissue tightens up, it burns up and it vaporizes. Your skin discolours and blisters and splits, which is gross.

Josh Clark: Like a bratwurst on a grill.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly. The muscle chars, it flexes, and your limbs actually can extend like your limbs are moving, apparently.

Josh Clark: I looked all over the place to find discussions about this stuff. About like a body sitting up. The closest thing I saw was, does a body sit up? I think it was a Wiki answer so that it had zero credibility.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But if your muscles are contracting or tightening or doing anything, like, yeah, your arms could go up.

Chuck Bryant: It's crazy.

Josh Clark: Like imagine the people in 1800 B.C. in China. They're like, wait, they're not dead! They're like waving.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I had a goldfish I tried to flush one time and I put him in and he started swimming again. And then I'd put him back in the tank and he just floated.

Josh Clark: So what it was just like the water motion that was making him look like it?

Chuck Bryant: Well no, I didn't flush it, I would - like when I put him in the toilet he started moving. Every single time, it was weird.

Josh Clark: That is weird.

Chuck Bryant: I'm pretty convinced he was dead though. Or he was by the time I froze him in a block of ice.

Josh Clark: You'll find out when you get to heaven.

Chuck Bryant: That's right. So your muscles have charred and tightened and your limbs are flailing about and your bones, obviously, are the last thing to go and they are calcified and then kind of just flake off and crumble into little bone bits.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And Chuck, the bones that are - or the stuff that is left are the charred bones that are - it really doesn't take a whole lot I think to pulverize them. But it does take an extra step. And they actually do hold their shape. So you go from a body in a box to a charred skeleton -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - is what it ultimately comes down to. And you either rake or sweep the remaining like bone material into something called a cremulator.

Chuck Bryant: Cremulator.

Josh Clark: And that is the - that's a grinder that grinds up everything and pulverizes it into this fine grainy - well actually coarse grainy powder.

Chuck Bryant: They described it as like, ash is sort of a weird word, because it's not like charred ash from your fire, it's more like a gravel, they said. Like tiny bits of gravel.

Josh Clark: Right. Because it's pulverized bone, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And it usually takes about two to three hours, depending on the kind crematory, I guess whatever machine you put it in.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, there's different kinds!

Josh Clark: And how -

Chuck Bryant: How big your bones are too.

Josh Clark: That has something to do with it too, but also I found that it depends on the level of - well there's something calle d the Ener-Tek IV. You should go on to matthewscrematorium.com. They have specs, and it's just weird because these guys are like selling their crematorium -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - and here's all the specs for it. And this thing is like state-of-the-art Ener-Tek IV is, and it burns a body in no more than 75 minutes.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty good. That must have been the modern ones that they say are all like automated now, right?

Josh Clark: Well they also sell ones that burn a body in four hours.

Chuck Bryant: Oh really?

Josh Clark: So it's like low end to high end.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: You know what I mean?

Chuck Bryant: You pay for what you get.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And at the end of this whole process you're going to end up with about 3 to 9 pounds of ash. And that's - actually that's where it depends on your bones. They say it doesn't matter like how fat you are, cause I think that burns away pretty easily.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I would think so.

Chuck Bryant: It's like your bone structure.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Bone is tough to burn.

Chuck Bryant: I guess so.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, these things - we said that they are pre-heated to about 1100 degrees, right. But they get up to about 2000.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So you can't just build this thing - you can't build and Ener-Tek or whatever you're building out of regular brick or cement or something like that. I think it explode the first time you tried to do this.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Josh Clark: So they use a specialized composite brick material. And actually over time the interior will be eaten away by the heat and the expansion and contraction. It will actually lose surface. So apparently what's recommended is after the bricks lose about half of their width, they have to be replaced.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. And it sounds kind of crude, but the way it's described in the article and the way I've heard it described, is that it's sort of like a pizza oven.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: They're made of similar things.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Cook a pizza, cook a body.

Josh Clark: Cook a body. So these things go for $250,000.00, down to $80,000.00.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Something like that. And they use natural gas or propane or propane accessories or diesel, I've seen. But they used to burn coal.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And I imagine that was a real pain.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I would imagine so.

Josh Clark: To incinerate a body. Back in the '60s I think they were still using coal.

Chuck Bryant: Gotta keep stoking that fire.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Another thing I thought was cool was - and I started thinking too, when you burn a fire, obviously you see ashes kind of floating all over the place, and I thought, well surely they've got to, you know, account for that when you're burning a body. And they do. They ignite a second flame in a side chamber and that burns off dust that's trying to escape the retort. And some of them even shoot water out the top to make sure none of the dust escapes out of the top of the plume, I guess.

Josh Clark: It's called wet scrubbing.

Chuck Bryant: Wet scrubbing?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. What else did we do - oh that was the fluoride thing, right?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Scrubbing the inside of the -

Josh Clark: And carbon sequest- sequestration. Phew!

Chuck Bryant: My brain is getting too full these days.

Josh Clark: Mine too.

Chuck Bryant: I need to stop doing the show.

Josh Clark: I know.

Chuck Bryant: And after it's all done, you can actually get remains, cremated remains, and I found that they say that you shouldn't call them cremains. That's what the CANA says.

Josh Clark: Why?

Chuck Bryant: They just say it's sort of a crude thing that people - non-industry people say, let's jus shorten it. And they're like, they thing it's disrespectful.

Josh Clark: Gotcha.

Chuck Bryant: So we won't say the word cremains. But you can have your cremated remains mailed to you via USPS if you want.

Josh Clark: But that's it in the United States.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You can't do it via FedEx or UPS. Or you can't, if they know what's in the box.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And I couldn't find out why. There's no explanation on UPS's or FedEx's site. They just say you can't - we won't ship that. They also won't ship a disinterred body.

Chuck Bryant: Well thank goodness for that.

Josh Clark: I guess. But the only thing I could - the only suggestion I could find why they wouldn't do this is you can't insure cremated remains.

Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah, that's probably it.

Josh Clark: Which I imagine they insure everything somehow.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and they don't want to get hit with a lawsuit.

Josh Clark: Right. Because people get mad when you lose their -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, probably so. The other cool thing about USPS though, is that they make sure to point out that it's got to be a sift-proof box. You don't want like ashes leaking out the side. And you have to have - like somebody's got to sign for it.

Josh Clark: Right. So usually if you don't get an urn or whatever when you get your cremated remains, the crematorium will have them in like a - basically a plastic bag inside maybe a plastic-lined box.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: It's designed to hold this kind of thing, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. And there may be just like very small remnants of other people with your remains. Like they do the best job they can. They burn one body at a time. Like, you know, if you're on the up-and-up as a good cremator should be. But inevitable when you're talking about ask and your sweeping it up, there might be a little bit of Joe mixed in with Harry, if you know what I mean.

Josh Clark: Oh, I know what you mean. So, Chuck, also I guess the industry standard is, just like you don't want to switch babies in a hospital, at the other end of life you don't want to switch cremated remains of dead people, right?

Chuck Bryant: It's a good policy.

Josh Clark: So apparently they'll stick a tag in your mouth, like a metal disc, or they'll put it somewhere on your person, that when you're melted down, this thing is still there so you can be identified.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You've got paperwork that goes with you from the moment you come to the crematorium to the moment you leave that's supposed to be with you every step of the way.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: And there is - basically all of this is supposed to avoid a mixup, right?

Chuck Bryant: It's supposed to.

Josh Clark: It doesn't always, especially when the crematorium operator or owner isn't on the up-and-up, as you said. And there's been plenty of examples of that, haven't there been?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I was a little alarmed to find out how little regulation goes on in some States.

Josh Clark: Yeah, only until the Tri-State Crematorium scandal of, I think, 2002 -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - did Georgia closed it's loopholes and now all crematoriums have to be licensed by the State.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, in Georgia. But in - I actually got a different number here. She said 23 of the 50 States license. I've actually got only 8 do not license is what I found.

Josh Clark: Oh well that's comforting.

Chuck Bryant: It's better.

Josh Clark: But if you look, all of these examples in this article are in the 2000s. So I wonder if that caused like a sweeping -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a spate.

Josh Clark: - expansion or crematorium regulation reform.

Chuck Bryant: I would say so.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Because if you - what happened in Georgia we'll tell you in a sec, but if you see this on the news and you're in like Pennsylvania, they don't want that kind of news hitting their State.

Josh Clark: Oh, it did.

Chuck Bryant: So I would imagine it probably spurred some action.

Josh Clark: It hit Pennsylvania, bud.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it did. Let's talk about the Georgia guy first.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Ray Brent Marsh pleaded guilty and apologized.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: He owned a crematorium in Noble, Georgia, and neither -

Chuck Bryant: Where is that?

Josh Clark: - Chuck nor I know where that is.

Chuck Bryant: I have no idea.

Josh Clark: So don't ask. I think it's probably in the North-West, because it's where Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama come together, which is why they call it Tri-State Crematorium. He was serving all three States.

Chuck Bryant: That's true.

Josh Clark: And in all three States the bodies of the beloved deceased were basically half buried out in the back yard because the cremator broke down and they just never got it fixed.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the incinerator broke. And so I think 336 bodies in total were found. And I found that originally they could only charge him with accepting money and fraud for services not rendered.

Josh Clark: Yeah, there was no law on the books.

Chuck Bryant: Right. They hit him with some other stuff though.

Josh Clark: What else did they give him?

Chuck Bryant: I think it must have come out after this article. He was actually charged with almost 800 counts of theft and abuse of a corpse. So they actually charged him with stealing these corpses.

Josh Clark: You don't want to go to prison with an abuse of a corpse rap on your head. They'll find out about that.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and he was sentenced to 8000 years in prison, and plea bargained that down to 12 years, somehow.

Josh Clark: Did you say 8000 years?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: That was almost a spit-take.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you were drinking your "beep" drink and you almost spit it out. So yeah, 8000 down to 12, which is a pretty good deal for him! There was a $36 million settlement from 58 funeral homes that sent bodies to this guy. So they sued the funeral homes.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And then they brought a suit, an $80 million civil suit settlement against this guy and his father's estate. And they probably don't have that kind of dough, so they're probably going to do what happens when that happens, which is you go after the insurance company.

Josh Clark: Oh yeah.

Chuck Bryant: The Georgia Farm bureau [inaudible].

Josh Clark: If the guy didn't even get around to having the incinerator fixed -

Chuck Bryant: [inaudible]

Josh Clark: [inaudible] have $80 million, he's got 300 bodies in his back yard, but -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so he's in jail right now, as far as I know.

Josh Clark: Oh yeah! Almost for 8000 years.

Chu ck Bryant: I know, that's a long sentence.

Josh Clark: You said Pennsylvania didn't want that to happen.

Chuck Bryant: Probably not.

Josh Clark: It did. It did. In 2005!

Chuck Bryant: What happened there?

Josh Clark: There was a guy who ran a crematorium and he had a deal with the local women's hospital to cremate the remains of pre-term babies.

Chuck Bryant: Eech.

Josh Clark: Basically aborted foetuses. This guy's job was to incinerate them.

Chuck Bryant: That's probably not a fun contract to sign.

Josh Clark: No, I wouldn't think so.

Chuck Bryant: Even if that's the way you make your money, you can't feel great about like closing that deal.

Josh Clark: I would not think so. Right. Yeah, you don't go out for a big fat steak after that one.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: The authorities I guess were tipped off and they went into his garage and found in boxes, the remains of 300 foetuses.

Chuck Bryant: Euch.

Josh Clark: Actually, 19 of them were post-term.

Chuck Bryant: Really.

Josh Clark: So they were born children that he was supposed to cremate and he didn't. But they could only get him on 19 counts because they were unborn.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So he couldn't - they weren't technically human beings under the eyes of the law, so he didn't get anything for those. But for the 19 he got in some trouble.

Chuck Bryant: How much, do you know?

Josh Clark: But he had them in his bi- I don't know. But he had them in boxes in his garage too, which is apparently the M.O. of the shady crematorium operator.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I hope they threw the book at him.

Josh Clark: Oh yeah, I'm sure they did.

Chuck Bryant: That makes me angry. Can't you tell how angry I am? In Lake Elsinore, California, Josh, in 2003, a dodgy owner was selling body parts for medical research, like heads -

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: - to people. Which means that he was cutting these heads off?

Josh Clark: Oh yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and - did I just say prisun? And then in Mississippi there was a really nice guy named Mark Seep who was mixing human remains together, giving out wrong ashes, dumping them in the trash bins and he was found guilty and put in jail too.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Did you say that Ray Brent Marsh was giving people wood ash and cement?

Chuck Bryant: I didn't mention that, but yeah that's what he did.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Because I mean it's not like he was just like, oh I got nothing, they burned up entirely. Like he was like, here's some cement in an urn, thanks for the money.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I understand the guy's incinerator burning and maybe not having the money to fix it, but I bet you anything he may have made enough money to get it fixed after that and was like, hey, I think I'm on to something here.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: We don't actually have to do this.

Josh Clark: It's pure profit.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, before we get into things that you can do with the remains of a loved one, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Can we talk about whether or not it's green? I've got a couple of stats here that I think are important.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So a lot of people are like a natural burial or a regular burial -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - is not very green.

Chuck Bryant: And it's expensive too, between like $7000 and $10,000.

Josh Clark: But then they also say, you know, I don't want to go entirely green, which is a bio-cremation.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Which is alkaline hydrosis? We talked about that before in what you can do with a dead body, remember, it turns you into oil that's poured down the drain.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty awesome.

Josh Clark: It is. So there has to be something in between, though, right? For the conscientious person who may be kind of believes in an afterlife and wants to do more with his body than -

Chuck Bryant: How do you kind of believe in afterlife?

Josh Clark: It's a vague gnawing in the back of your head.

Chuck Bryant: I wonder where you end up if you kind of believe.

Josh Clark: It's like a tick sucking, like hot dog pack.

Chuck Bryant: Oh god.

Josh Clark: So, in 2009 Reuters was doing this article on bio-cremation. They were talking about how green is regular cremation. And it's not green at all. Like you think about it, you are using tons of natural gas.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Not tons, it's hyperbolic, but you're using a lot of natural gas or diesel or whatever. You're using a lot of electricity.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. There's emissions.

Josh Clark: Because it takes both. So apparently it releases, a standard cremation releases about 880 pounds of CO2 in just one body.

Chuck Bryant: And that's the big enemy.

Josh Clark: And it uses enough energy to basically power a 500 mile road trip.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: So not one and the same. Like these are two separate things.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So it uses the energy to get you across country 500 miles and, depending on the size of your country, and it releases 880 pounds of CO2 into the air.

Chuck Bryant: I wonder what that compares to footprint wise to standard burial?

Josh Clark: I think it's -

Chuck Bryant: Is it still better?

Josh Clark: I think it - I don't know. Man, I think it's just entirely different ways, where I think maybe a natural, or a regular traditional burial is more - it's more polluting, like directly polluting into the ground and that kind of thing and it's using up resources. Where a cremation has less of an impact over time! But immediately it's a lot of input. It requires a lot of input.

Chuck Bryant: Gotcha.

Josh Clark: That's my concept of it.

Chuck Bryant: Right. I wouldn't mind being burned, but - which country was it where they like burn you on top of the wood by like the banks of the river?

Josh Clark: That's India.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I like that. That's what - how I would want to go.

Josh Clark: Well, buddy, if you live in India and you're a Hindu, that's exactly how you have to go. That was a perfect segue to religion, isn't it?

Chuck Bryant: I guess so. You said Hindu's they mandate cremation.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they're the only religion that does.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and it's called - I'm going to go ahead and give it a whirl here. Antim-sanskar, which is last rite? You want to hit the other one?

Josh Clark: Antiesthi.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Antiesthi, I think.

Josh Clark: Which is last sacrifice?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and this is - those are one of the 16 life rituals, I guess it would be the last one. Actually I would probably be corrected. There may be one after that. The whole rebirth and all that!

Josh Clark: Maybe, but the - I guess the smoke gets the body to the next life.

Chuck Bryant: I bet it's one of the last four. I'll wager on that.

Josh Clark: I bet it is.

Chuck Bryant: And they - yeah, like you said, they're Hindu, so they say you dispose of this body and it ushers you and helps you be reborn into the next life when you're cremated.

Josh Clark: And while Hinduism is the only religion that mandates you have - that's how you - that's how your body is disposed of.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Sikhism and Jainism are both kind of strongly endorsed, and although they don't require it, right.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And you were saying that they cremate people in India along the banks of the river.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Most of their cremations, from what I understand, are open air cremations.

Chuck Bryant: See I like that idea.

Josh Clark: There's a city called Varanasi, which apparently is the Holy City to be cremated in. And you are cremated out in the open along the banks of the Ganges.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That's nice.

Josh Clark: But they do have an electric crematorium, but since there's a billion people who live in India and all live on electricity, this place suffers power outages.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Oh man, that's sad. If you are Christian, Jewish or you're Muslim, Josh, they generally frown upon it because - or outright prohibit it depending on which religion it is.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Islam prohibits i t.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they like, they want you buried that day.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: The same day you die. Preferably.

Josh Clark: Right, so in Judaism, Chuck, I don't think it's actually restricted, I think you can if you want to. But the - among Orthodox and Conservative Jews the memory of the Holocaust -

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: - still understandably smarts to the point where they're like, why would you want to be cremated? This is - you know, there's legacies still around. So there's a lot of Jews who don't want to be cremated, even though their religion doesn't prohibit it.

Chuck Bryant: Right, understandably. Protestants actually is where you're gonna be finding some more open minds to cremation. They don't, you know, have any literature that says you should do this, but they're definitely more understanding about it than other religions.

Josh Clark: Right. And we talked about the Catholic Church having a problem with it because of its association with subversiveness towards the church. But in the '60s the Catholic Church said, hey, we've never really prohibited it.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You can get cremated if you want. And apparently tat gave it a boost. That and the hula burger! People really catered to the Catholics in the '60s.

Chuck Bryant: 30 percent I found. CANA says that 30 percent of Catholics are cremated now, so that's quite a boost, I would say.

Josh Clark: Right. The Mormons also, they're not big on cremation, although they don't prohibit it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And in countries where it's traditional, they're like, yeah, please, go ahead. But the Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox Church says nay. Nyet.

Chuck Bryant: Nyet.

Josh Clark: Good point, thanks.

Chuck Bryant: Where are we now, with some - can we talk about finally what you can do with your remains?

Josh Clark: I think it's high time, don't you?

Chuck Bryant: Not what you can do with your remains, because you clearly can't do anything, but what -

Josh Clark: Ask not what you can do with your remains.

Chuck Bryant: But what your friends and family can do with your remains. And sometimes they like to keep you in an urn, and they have these little cemetery like buildings called a columbarium, and they just hold ashes from what I understand.

Josh Clark: Like your urn.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh C lark: It's like a vault.

Chuck Bryant: So some people choose that. It costs them dough, obviously. Go ahead and tell us about your hero. I know you want to mention that.

Josh Clark: Who, Hunter T?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah. He was mixed with fireworks and shot out of a canon.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: A 150 foot canon, also called a memorial tower. And apparently it was an organization called Heaven's Above Fireworks that did this. And anybody can do it.

Chuck Bryant: And Johnny Depp paid for the party, right?

Josh Clark: Yeah, and from what I saw, it was - if it was this British company, he would have paid about the equivalent of $3000 US for a large fireworks display. That's what they charge. Which isn't bad?

Chuck Bryant: Since you mentioned money, actually, I did see the average cremation cost is about $1600.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And the average -

Chuck Bryant: That's quite cheap, really.

Josh Clark: - funeral - I saw $5000. In this article it's $10,000 [inaudible].

Chuck Bryant: We'll say somewhere between $5000 and $10,000.

Josh Clark: Let's.

Chuck Bryant: But back to thing you can do. We would be remiss if we didn't mention to our nerd friends that Gene Roddenbery, creator of Star Trek fame, as everyone knows this, he was shot into space.

Josh Clark: So was Timothy Leary.

Chuck Bryant: Oh yeah, that's right!

Josh Clark: By the same company, Celestis. And they're still in business as far as I know.

Chuck Bryant: I bet they are.

Josh Clark: And then you've got Life Gem, which we've talked about I think again on the webcast, didn't we?

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: You can take your cremated remains and have them compressed into a synthetic diamond.

Chuck Bryant: You can have your remains mixed into paint. And I guess that's not so much you can have, but you could probably just do that.

Josh Clark: It depends. Like there's actually a guy who does something called ash portraits, right.

Chuck Bryant: Really? He paints a picture.

Josh Clark: He does it just with the person's ashes. But he'll also mix it in with oil or whatever. But he does portraits of the deceased,

Chuck Bryant: All right. I've change my mind. I want to be remembered as dogs playing poker.

Josh Clark: That would be pretty awesome.

Chuck Bryant: That's what I want.

Josh Clark: That would be really cool.

Chuck Bryant: What else can you do? You can - oh, you can become part of the coral reef. There's companies that do that.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh. There's a company called Eternal Reefs, I think, is the big one.

Chuck Bryant: Well that's a pretty obvious name, don't you think?

Josh Clark: And well actually they make different sized reefs and what they do is they mix your remains in with cement. And like so the big one it can accommodate up to 4 family members. So if your family went down in a plane and you just feel like shelling out for one, you know, coral reef -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - they've got you covered. It's like $7000.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Uh-huh, and it's pretty big size, and it's cool looking. I mean it looks like an artificial reef and then you take it out and dump it overboard.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Fish live amongst your family members, who I really really hope loved scuba diving.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly. You remember Keith Richards a couple of years ago?

Josh Clark: He's still alive?

Chuck Bryant: Well now his dad passed away and he said that he snorted his father with cocaine.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And then - I mean apparently he said this in an interview, then that came out and he was like, no, no, no, I was just kidding around. I - of course I didn't snort my father.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: [Whispering] I think he snorted his father.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I think he did too.

Chuck Bryant: That sounds like [inaudible]

Josh Clark: There's a Six Feet Under episode where these people snort the remains of this girl.

Chuck Bryant: Re ally?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I don't remember that one.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it was a good one.

Chuck Bryant: I do have some stats for you though, what people seem to like to do. 38 percent keep the ashes at their home.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: 37 percent bury the ashes, 21 percent do the scatter, very popular. I thought it would be more popular than that though.

Josh Clark: The most popular one is water scattering. And number two is scattering somewhere on family property.Chuck Bryant:

Oh really^Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: 3 percent are put in the columbarium and, you might notice, Josh, that adds up to 99 percent.

Josh Clark: Yeah, there's 1 percent that go unclaimed.

Chuck Bryant: So sad.

Josh Clark: It is sad. And I - apparently the people who own crematoriums find it sad too because even though after a set period of time in States that regulate this kind of stuff, which did we say the Federal Trade Commission regulates mortuaries. There's no Federal oversight now for any crematorium.

Chuck Bryant: It comes down to the State.

Josh Clark: But in States where there are regulations, they still say you can throw these out after a set period of time, but most crematoriums, the up-and-up ones, will hang on to these things for decades. Because again, it's a small box!

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: But I mean, they don't want to just throw it away, it's a person.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and it's only 1 percent, so I don't imagine they're like overflowing with unclaimed remains.

Josh Clark: I would hope not.

Chuck Bryant: But since you did mention the scattering, we should talk about some of the law about scattering, because you can't just scatter anywhere.

Josh Clark: No. The National Park Service has no official stance on scattering remains. They leave it up to each individual park. But most of the parks say, unless there's like a grave area, like a designated grave area, you can't scatter ashes here.

Chuck Bryant: Well it also said they kind of turned a blind eye, like.

Josh Clark: Oh really.

Chuck Bryant: They know it goes on, and I'm sure some ashes in Yosemite Park are like, how are you going to tell the difference between that and like fire ash.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Or dirt, or whatever.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: But State parks they say - or actually the National Forest Service doesn't regulate anything on their land. So that's where you would probably want to go. Like avoid the National park and just stay in the national forest.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Or go to your State park that was a beloved State park, because they're a little more lax than the National parks.

Josh Clark: Right. The - if you want to do water scattering, or ocean scattering, the EPA says you gotta be 3 miles away from the coastline.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Very prudish.

Chuck Bryant: yeah.

Josh Clark: California's like, that's way too much. They still have a restriction, but it's 500 feet, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, pretty close.

Josh Clark: And people don't always follow regulations, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So you want to tell about the Cubs fan?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. This is kind of a nice story. Steve Goodman died of Leukemia in 1984, diehard Cubbies fan. Sadly did not get to see the Cubs win a world series, as likely neither will you and I. And four years later he - his buddy snuck in before opening day and threw the ashes into the wind out over the field.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: Pretty cool.

Josh Clark: That is pretty cool. Did you ever hear of Graham Parson's story?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, his body was stolen, right?

Josh Clark: Yeah, his friends - he said that he wanted to be cremated and scattered on Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, right.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: And his parents found out he was dead and had his body shipped back for a private funeral.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: And his friends found out that they weren't going to be invited, so they stole him and took him out to Joshua Tree and opened the casket, threw some gasoline on him and set him on fire. Five gallons of gas, right, and it didn't work. Because we've said -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: - what it takes. So he was half cremated by the time the cops showed up.

Chuck Bryant: He's sort of melty.

Josh Clark: And just like Georgia, back then there was nothing about - there were no penalties for stealing a corpse, so they got them for theft of a casket, I think.

Chuck Bryant: That was - did you see that movie?

Josh Clark: Nuh-uh.

Chuck Bryant: And Johnny Knoxville played the guy that - his buddy?

Josh Clark: Nuh-uh.

Chuck Bryant: It's not very good. I did stay in that hotel though, actually. I mention- meant to mention that in the Route 66.

Josh Clark: The Inn?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the Joshua Tree Inn.

Josh Clark: Cool.

Chuck Bryant: Not in his room though. And before we move on from scattering, Josh, we have to mention, because we like to mention our movies, the excellent, excellent scene from The Big Lebowski. The scattering scene at the end of The Big Lebowski!

Josh Clark: When all of them just blew back all over them.

Chuck Bryant: It was so great. It blew the chunk - it was Steve Buscemi that died, right.

Josh Clark: I think so.

Chuck Bryant: And he threw him out in the wind and it blew back in their face over the ocean.

Josh Clark: That was good.

Chuck Bryant: It was very good.

Josh Clark: Chuck, if I am dead and I'm being cremated and I'm part of 75 percent of the population, what county am I in?

Chuck Bryant: Sweden? Switzerland.

Josh Clark: Switzerland.

Chuck Bryant: I always get those two confused.

Josh Clark: If I've been cremated and I am part of just a meagre 3 percent of the population, what country am I in?

Chuck Bryant: Ghana?

Josh Clark: That's right.

Chuck Bryant: That's right. And in between, or actually than that, Hong Kong is 83 percent. Places like the Czech Republic and Singapore and the U.K. are sort of mid to high '70s. China and the Netherlands are about half, and Italy, as far as European countries was - I'm sorry, Ireland was 6 percent, Italy was 7 percent. And I bet that has something to do with the Catholic thing.

Josh Clark: I would think so, for sure. The U.S. is about 30 percent, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Thanks to our large Protestant population.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And Hindu.

Chuck Bryant: And there's also pet cremation.

Josh Clark: Yeah, if you want to get into a burgeoning industry that went from pretty much nothing to it's a $3 billion industry is the latest stat.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: Get into pet cremation. And the people at Matthews Crematorium Supply! They make pet cremators too.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, they do humans and pets?

Josh Clark: Um-hum.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty interesting.

Josh Clark: And animals too. Apparently there's different types.

Chuck Bryant: Oh really?

Josh Clark: So I guess one you could fit a horse into and one made for like dogs or something.

Chuck Bryant: Right. You know, I would support - or I would be more likely to go into one of those because they say that some of the pet only crematoriums are a little dodgy.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they're totally unregulated.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so they're just like burning your pets together and you don't know that the ashes you get - and if you're serious enough about your pet to get your pet cremated, then you probably want your pet's ashes.

Josh Clark: Right, so you can handle cremation at home, just dig a shallow hole in your back yard to serve as a fire break, and do your neighbours a favour and shave your pet first before you set it on fire.

Chuck Bryant: We buried my animals growing up, my pets.

Josh Clark: Did you?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we have, I think at my old house we probably have like four or five pets buried out in the wood. But we lived on like 2 acres in the woods. It wasn't like in a neighbourhood.

Josh Clark: You didn't set any on fire?

Chuck Bryant: No, no, no, no.

Josh Clark: Well that's it for cremation. Thanks for joining us for that one, right Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: I think we covered pretty much everything in there. But if you want, it's a good, good article. High calibre How Stuff Works article!

Chuck Bryant: Not like the rest of these stinkers.

Josh Clark: Just type in cremation in the search bar, the jazzy search bar at HowStuffWorks.com.

Chuck Bryant: Jazzy?

Josh Clark: I'm just trying new stuff.

Chuck Bryant: We've been getting lots of suggestions, by the way.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh?

Chuck Bryant: I like ubiquitous search bar, that's pretty good.

Josh Clark: It's not everywhere, though. I mean I guess it is everywhere, but it's -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah, yeah, you're right.

Josh Clark: So I guess it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, buddy, I got a couple today. A couple of short ones! The first one is from Masonic Aston, and this is a little old, but I promised this guy I would read it. This from Mark in Easton, MD! I know you guys won't read this on a podcast - those are usually the ones I read. But I just thought I'd write to tell you what happened to me this morning in my frantic rush to get my daughter Ellie to a summer camp on time. I had to run out of the house without having breakfast. That caused me to have to stop at a fast-food joint and get one of those gross, greasy breakfast sandwiches. You would think it's bad enough, but it gets worse. As I drive from the driveway I pushed play on the iPad and start listening to the show on saunas, where I started hearing about butt funk, Chuck sweating out gallons of fluid and having to visualize a naked Viggo Mortensen fighting in a sauna made my otherwise gross sandwich and greasy potato things one for the books. By the way, the podcast that I queued up next was all about taste buds, so now I know how I was able to taste my sandwich in the first place. Thanks a lot guys. That's from Mark. If you do happen to read this on the air, would you - it would make Ellie and Lydia's day. Those are his daughters.

Josh Clark: Oh, hey Ellie and Lydia!

Chuck Bryant: So Mark that is for you, my friend. And then this one, I didn't think about, but it's kind of fitting. Do you remember when I told you about the little girl in Kent, Washington who named her beta fish Chuckers Junior?

Josh Clark: I saw this one.

Chuck Bryant: Chuckers Junior is no more.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Monday night I put Chuckers Junior inside his small bowl so I could clean his bowl in the morning. Yesterday morning I went to make my breakfast, in front of his bowl as usual, but I - to make my breakfast, I thought she meant make his. Which would be pretty cute? I felt something sticky on my foot and I looked down and to my horror I saw Chuckers Junior stuck to my foot, all dried out. And it was horrible. Apparently betas have been known to jump out of their bowls. And I guess Chuckers the edge of the counter.

Josh Clark: Wow.

Chuck Bryant: Yet he still ended up on the floor. My theory is that he probably flopped around or something, onto the floor.

Josh Clark: Can't you just let the little girl think her beta fish was special?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you're right. Chuckers Junior was special, Katie. Also, I found out that the bowl he was in had only a centimetre from the -

Josh Clark: Centimetre? Where's she from? Siberia? Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: She's from Kent, Washington. She said you're usually supposed to leave about a inch between the top of the thing, I guess, to make it harder to jump out.

Josh Clark: It's the same thing, right? One centimetre equals one inch?

Chuck Bryant: I think so.

Josh Clark: Like 40 degrees below.

Chuck Bryant: She ends with this. At least Chuckers Junior died a health fish. That's from Katie, age 13 in Kent, Washington.

Josh Clark: Well thanks for your optimism, Katie.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Kent, I'm sorry about your breakfast sandwich. Although I'm hungry now!

Chuck Bryant: It wasn't Kent, it was Mark, she was from Kent.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: It's all right though.

Josh Clark: Mark, sorry about your breakfast sandwich. Kent, I have no idea who you are. If you have a really cool cremation story, we want to hear about it. So wrap it up in an email and send it to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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