Cremation was first introduced, against considerable opposition, as a hygienic method of disposal and a solution to the problem of over-crowded municipal cemeteries in conurbations. Some people keep ashes on their mantelpiece, but most either bury or scatter them. Scattering has led to problems, so that the government had to bring in new anti-pollution rules. Meanwhile, space for burials is still running out. However you look at it, and many would prefer not to, the problem can only get bigger. Trouble is that whenever the prospect of reusing graves is mentioned, bereaved relatives get very het up about it. Lucy Townsend has written a piece for the BBC News Magazine about the subject:
This situation is not universal. In some countries a more pragmatic approach to human remains means they have largely avoided the overcrowding issue.Resistance to change is usual - people will refer to "traditions" that are only decades old - but when it comes to death, resistance can be expressed very emotionally and politicians will hesitate to confront it. However unpopular it is, they're going to have to.
In Germany, graves are reused after only 30 years, the existing remains usually being exhumed and cremated. In Australia and New Zealand, "dig and deepen" is carried out in urban areas as a matter of routine.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, says it is time to change tack.
"It's a no-brainer," he says. "Re-use is common in lots of other countries, and was common practice in the UK until the 1850s."