Chapter 8
Cremation: sector overview and policy issues


8.1 In New Zealand cremation is the most common method used for final disposition of a body.282 An Auckland funeral director believes that cremation “fits with the no frills mentality of Kiwis”.283 There are no national cremation statistics but an estimated 70 per cent of deceased New Zealanders are cremated each year.284 One Hamilton funeral director has reported that eight out of 10 funerals are cremations, with cost being a major factor in people’s decisions,285 while another believes that cremation rates have dropped from about 80 per cent a few years ago to around 70 per cent, with more people now opting for natural burials.286

8.2In this chapter we give a brief overview of the cremation sector, describe how it is currently regulated and raise potential policy issues. In the next chapter we consider features of regulatory models used overseas, and set out some preliminary reform options on which we seek feedback.

8.3 In chapter 7 we reached fairly firm reform proposals for the cemetery sector, after extensive preliminary consultation and feedback through the Local Authority and Cemetery Trustees Surveys, and preliminary discussions with government agencies and stakeholders. However, by comparison, our reform proposals for the cremation framework are not as fully developed as we have not yet had sufficient engagement with key stakeholders or the public to confirm our preliminary conclusions. The sector, as we describe below, is made up of a mix of providers, with the Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective being recently established to represent and advise on industry interests and matters.287 We look forward to further discussion and engagement with the Collective, the industry and the public in identifying and responding to current issues.

8.4Crematoria are regulated through a combination of primary, secondary and tertiary legislation. In this chapter, we ask whether that regulatory framework is fit for purpose. We have focused specifically on the following interests and drivers:

8.5As highlighted throughout this paper, dignity and respect for the deceased and the bereaved family is a key policy driver. One of the regulatory goals therefore is to ensure that regulatory and compliance standards provide the necessary degree of public assurance.

8.6As well as dignity and respect, some of the policy drivers that we discussed in relation to the cemetery sector in previous chapters also arise in the context of cremation, such as responsiveness to community and cultural demands throughout the process, and environmental sustainability.

8.7The cremation industry also shares some of the policy drivers that operate in the funeral services sector (discussed in Part 2), such as safe and sanitary practices in the handling of the deceased. The provision of crematoria is not restricted to local authorities or public bodies and the majority of the sector is now made up of private providers. This is a feature that distinguishes the cremation sector from the current make-up of the cemetery sector, where public provision is dominant by virtue of the legislative framework.

8.8The cremation and funeral services sectors are becoming increasingly connected because of a trend towards vertical integration. As we discuss below, a significant number of new cremators have been installed in New Zealand over the past five years in conjunction with existing funeral homes.

8.9The sector also has its own unique policy drivers to consider. As the cremation process transforms human remains into ash, with the consequent destruction of DNA and other evidence relevant to the cause of death, regulatory safeguards need to minimise the risk that cremation prematurely destroys evidence of any criminal wrongdoing that may have contributed to the death. Some of these aspects of the regulatory framework have been covered in an earlier Issues Paper.288
282For historical background see chapter 3 at [3.24]–[3.28].
283Scott Morgan “More cemetery sites planned” Western Leader (online ed, Auckland, 10 March 2011). See also Shelley Bridgeman “Burial, cremation and organ donation” The New Zealand Herald (online ed, Auckland, 1 November 2012); Sarah Harvey “Funeral fireworks … why Kiwis go out with a bang” (6 May 2012) Stuff <>; Nicholas Jones “Cremation popular as religion’s role declines” The New Zealand Herald (online ed, Auckland, 5 January 2012).
284Rates vary significantly from region to region and within different demographic groups. See Law Commission Final Words: Death and Cremation Certification in New Zealand (NZLC IP23, 2011) at [3.1]. See also Leila Chrystall and Andrew Rumsby Mercury Inventory for New Zealand 2008 (Pattle Delamore Partners Limited, 2009) Section II at 3.2.10, estimating that approximately 17,500 corpses were cremated in New Zealand in 2008, based on the official deaths registered in that year and an estimated ratio of cremations to burial of 60/40; Dr Bruce W Graham and Dr Alistair G Bingham New Zealand Inventory of Dioxin Emissions to Air, Land and Water, and Reservoir Sources (Ministry for the Environment, 2011) at 35, assuming a cremation rate of 61.4 per cent for the purposes of emissions estimates for 2013 and 2018, based on average cremation rates.
285Aaron Leaman “Illegal burials on the rise in Waikato” Waikato Times (online ed, 8 August 2012).
286Michelle Cooke “Natural burials the way to go” (20 April 2012) Stuff <>.
287The Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective has been established under the umbrella of the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA), an organisation for recreation professionals, following the NZRA Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective Conference in June 2012. The Collective’s terms of reference are available at <>. The Collective’s vision is “to become the lead support and advisory group in the NZ Cemeteries and Crematoria sector” and its purposes are “to lead the sector in delivering the best outcomes to the community and individuals touched by bereavement”, and “to encourage a collective approach to sharing information, knowledge, expertise and professional development in the cemeteries and crematorium sector”: New Zealand Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective “Terms of Reference” (2013).
288Final Words: Death and Cremation Certification in New Zealand, above n 284.