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We are committed to providing information that will help you make dignified, affordable final arrangements.
Our Funeral Home Price Survey
Our annual Funeral Home Price Survey includes a price chart which allows you to compare what all the funeral providers in our service area charge for exactly the same goods and services.
|How do we determine the costs shown in our survey chart?|
Every January, FCACTX volunteers obtain price lists from more than 50 funeral establishments physically located in Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties. Specifically, we visited funeral homes in Austin . . . Bastrop . . . Cedar Park . . . Dripping Springs . . . Elgin . . . Georgetown . . . Kyle . . . Leander . . . Lockhart . . . Luling . . . Pflugerville . . . Round Rock . . . San Marcos . . . Smithville . . . Taylor . . . and Wimberley.
The prices in this survey were calculated by reviewing a General Price List (GPL) and a Casket Price List (CPL) obtained from each funeral provider. Because some funeral homes offer one or more packages and others do not offer packages, all costs shown in the survey are taken from products and services itemized on the price lists.
Our Cemetery Survey
Every other year we gather prices from a sampling of cemeteries in our five-county service area. The survey also includes information about the state veterans cemetery in Killeen and two national veterans cemeteries in San Antonio.To download and print, just click on the Survey title of your choice.
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What is legal in only 13 States, 3 Canadian Provinces and was condemned by the New York Catholic Conference in 2011? The punchline to this bad setup is less funny than you may have hoped: Alkaline Hydrolysis, otherwise known as Bio Cremation or resomation (resomation is a trademarked process). Alkaline Hydrolysis is a process that uses water and lye to break apart the body after death without the use of fire. This, proponents say, leads to a more environmentally friendly process for the disposal of bodies. Yet the response from lawmakers, governments and religious institutions has been rather lacklustre and even oppositional. To break down the process and consider the arguments, we spoke to funeral lawyers and Alkaline Hydrolysis experts to get the inside scoop.
The Bio Cremation Process
Bio cremation or resomation is based on a process called alkaline hydrolysis. The corpse is placed in a chamber that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali that is then heated to around 160°C or 320 °F. The water never reaches the boiling point and instead, breaks the body down into its chemical components. In other words, skin, muscle and tissue are dissolved, leaving only the bones. This process takes around 3 hours to complete.
Once the process is complete, what is left is a greenish brown liquid made up of amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts, including an intact, white skeleton. The bones, which are now soft and porous, can easily be crushed and returned to the next of kin. This process is similar to regular, fire cremation in which only the bones remain. From there families can choose to bury the ashes, keep them on display or place them in a niche. The liquid which remains is drained into the city’s sewer system or can be spread in a green space, as it is considered safe and biodegradable.
A fraction of the carbon footprint, no emissions and more sustainable
What Are The Benefits of Bio Cremation?
According to Samantha Sieber, the Vice President of Research for Bio-Response Solutions, the appeal to consumers is that bio cremation “is a fraction of the carbon footprint, [has] no emissions and it is more sustainable”. That interest rests on the smaller environmental footprint of Alkaline Hydrolysis, a process which uses anywhere from 1/10th to 1/20th the carbon footprint of traditional cremation, a method which uses a lot of energy and produces a lot of carbon emissions. According to industry studies, one cremation uses 92 cubic meters of natural gas and 29 kilowatt-hours of electricity, pumping over 400 kilos of carbon dioxide into the air. That is enough carbon dioxide to drive a car for 15 straight hours and enough energy to power a large air conditioning unit for 44 hours. Mercury and other toxic metals from dental fillings and joint replacements are also burned during cremation. And this speaks to the other problem with traditional cremation, the fire. Sieber told us that aside from the environmental impact, consumers she has spoken to generally “have an aversion to fire” and prefer the “gentle” method of bio cremation.
One of the misconceptions about Alkaline Hydrolysis is that the body is completely dissolved by the alkaline process, leaving no bones or human remains. According to Sieber, not only do the bones remain intact once the process is complete, bio cremation offers up to 20% more ashes than traditional cremation, a benefit for consumers looking to spread ashes or divide them amongst family and friends.
The Argument Against Bio Cremation
Catholics were once strictly forbidden to cremate their bodies. However, new theological concepts in the 1960s did away with the aversion to the destructive nature of cremation. While one might think the Catholic Church would see no problem with a process that does the same thing, but in a more eco-conscious way, it has been one of the largest proponents against alkaline hydrolysis. Many of the arguments used against traditional cremation by clergy are now being used against proponents of bio cremation. A 2011 gathering of New York Catholics reified the Church’s belief that “the sacredness of the human body and its dignity arises out of concern for both the body’s natural and supernatural properties”. The concern amongst Catholics is that bio cremation devalues the human body by turning it into “human waste” .
Many of these experts are inherently conflicted about alkaline hydrolysis
The Church has not been the only opposition to bio cremation. Tanya Marsh, funeral law specialist and professor at Wake Forest University School of Law wrote to TalkDeath and explained that “the most significant legal hurdle for the adoption of alkaline hydrolysis is that most states explicitly limit the legal methods of disposition to burial, entombment, cremation, and donation for educational or scientific purposes. Some states may have a broad enough definition of “cremation” to include methods of accelerated decomposition that don’t involve fire, but most states specifically define cremation as a process involving fire”.
The uphill battle facing alkaline hydrolysis isn’t from lawmakers who oppose bio cremation, it is the difficult process of changing any law at state and provincial levels. To bring new issues to the attention of lawmakers requires a lot of time, energy and importantly, money. As the bio cremation industry is still small compared to more established funerary professions, it is often up to dedicated teams in individual states to push for change.
With regards to an industry hesitant to adopt change, Tanya Marsh claims that “some funeral directors have very proactively embraced alkaline hydrolysis but many of these experts are inherently conflicted about alkaline hydrolysis and fear that it offers further competition to an industry that is already struggling to cope with rising levels of cremation”. Yet Sieber believes the funeral profession is open and generally positive towards bio cremation. At the recent National Funeral Director’s Association convention in Indianapolis, funeral directors visiting the Bio Response Solutions booth were educated about the process and many expressed genuine interest.
Bio Cremation: Moving Forward
Alkaline hydrolysis is not a new process. In fact, Universities in Europe and North America have been utilizing the process since the 1990s to dispose of research animals. During outbreaks of animal diseases such as mad cow, industrial alkaline hydrolysis machines have been used to dispose of large numbers of animals safely and effectively. But as with any new technology, human adoption takes time and it takes effort.
When [consumers] have to make a choice but they’re not being provided with accurate information, I think it is a disservice to the people the industry serves
Where the process has been legalized, adoption rates are growing. By one estimate, when consumers are given the choice between bio cremation or traditional cremation, 80% will choose the alkaline option. This could be big news for a profession struggling to meet consumer demands for cheaper, eco-friendly disposal options. We asked Samantha Sieber what she thought some of the biggest challenges for bio cremation would be moving forward and her response was simple: education. She shares that “when [consumers] have to make a choice but they’re not being provided with accurate information, I think it is a disservice to the people the industry serves”. When there is pushback against bio cremation it is often due to misinformed funeral directors and a miseducated public Sieber says.
Already bio cremation companies are beginning to make headway, with new machines recently sold in Quebec, Ontario and new markets in the United States. What the future holds for bio cremation will largely depend on an openness of state and provincial legislatures to adopt the technology. While the funeral profession has often been accused of being set in its ways, as with any profession, adoption of new technologies and techniques takes time and education. As consumer demand rises and this process becomes normalized, expect machines to be making their way to your nearest funeral home.
Like most people, Cortney Gusick never considered the prospect of purchasing a casket until she needed to select one for a family member. Eight years ago, her dad died from pancreatic cancer, and she was thrust into the death-care industry as a consumer. The most difficult part of making the funeral arrangements was finding the right casket. Gusick wanted something that reflected who her father was in his very full life: a Hawai‘i boy who cared about the environment and carried those values with him to Oregon, where he raised his three daughters. Ultimately, Gusick settled on a simple pine box from a small-scale, non-commercial business. “His body was going to biodegrade as it was designed to do, and it would provide some kind of nourishment for the earth,” Gusick says. She reasoned that the receptacle in which he was buried should do the same.
Common caskets are not earth-friendly. Nearly every model found in funeral home catalogs is manufactured with metal, paint, silicone, synthetic polyester fabric, and other non-biodegradable materials. That greener options aren’t readily available in the modern burial industry concerns Gusick, especially in a place like Hawaiʻi, where a reverance for one’s natural surroundings is part of daily life. After her dad’s death, she saw the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel, and she came out the other side a casket builder. “This is what I want to offer for people,” she says. “For someone’s eco-legacy to be, ‘I did right by the earth.’”
Last year, Gusick started Pāhiki Eco-Caskets, a low-impact, environmentally sound casket manufacturer, in the backyard of her Mānoa Valley home. The venture was a 180-degree pivot from her ongoing job at the Silicone Valley-based company UserTesting as a test engineer in the amorphous world of software and mobile applications. “I had zero background,” Gusick admits. But the 37-year-old felt equipped for the intensely tactile field she was about to enter. “My dad taught his girls how to do everything, how to change our own tires, acid-strip a deck, lacquer the house’s wainscotings,” she says. She binged on online tutorials to gain a baseline knowledge of woodworking. “Between Dad and YouTube,” she says, “I felt like, ‘I got this.’”
Three months later, she teamed up with Logan Baggett, a friend she met in Oregon who had previously worked in Hawaiʻi’s solar industry, to help finesse Pāhiki’s offerings of 4- to 6-foot-long, 100 percent biodegradable caskets crafted from untreated, Hawaiʻi-grown wood. Soon after, the company attracted five investors and received a business loan from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which they used to buy hardwoods and build out inventory.
In Hawaiian, the word pāhiki means “to pass quietly, go lightly, touch gently,” a definition the duo strives to embody. Their caskets are made with reclaimed local albizia, monkeypod, mango, avocado, and Norfolk pine provided by Waimānalo Wood, a lumber mill that also houses their workshop. Pāhiki caskets range in price from $1,800 to $2,200 (less than the $2,400 median cost of a standard metal casket). In the circumstance that someone needs a keiki casket, Pāhiki provides it for a dollar.
Gusick considers every dimension of her industry. We’re trapped in a “death-denial culture,” especially in the United States, she says, which is obsessed with indefinitely preserving the deceased in ways that only benefit the living. For Gusick, the more grandiose style of caskets, which can cost upwards of $15,000, are more for the living than the dead. Those caskets “resemble pieces of high-end furniture that belong in this world, that belong in a house, and look like they’re meant to last over time,” she says. But the reality is they go into the ground, never to be seen again.
Pāhiki’s unobtrusive design aesthetic is in direct response to that. The final products—caskets that trade metal, paint, synthetic fabric, and lacquer for wood, non-toxic glue, muslin, and coconut-oil finishes—are crafted to allow the wood grain to shine in its most organic state. The caskets are stripped of sensational flourishes, but not of sentiment. Family members can opt to purchase the “collaborative option,” for which Gusick and Baggett affix biodegradable linen loops around the casket’s perimeter to hold flowers from funeral guests.
Pāhiki also has a keen interest in engaging with communities that have large Native Hawaiian populations on Oʻahu and neighbor islands. During community talk stories, Gusick presents information about Native Hawaiian burial rights and practices—which involve cremating a body in an imu, wrapping the bones in kapa cloth, and burying them in lauhala—and how to perform them legally. As a Native Hawaiian, Gusick feels especially called to apply a Hawaiian understanding of ʻāina to her work. “Hawaiians were the original environmental stewards,” she says. “I can rewind back through so many generations of people where this was always their charge, to take care of the land, and now I can do it in a way that’s modern.”
As long as humans are dying, the death-care industry, which sees profits in the billions of dollars, will remain open for business. Pāhiki’s niche market is a fractional percentage of that, but it is poised to grow as an aging population becomes more informed of greener burial methods. While Pāhiki’s prototypes are evolving, the emotional gravity of the caskets will always be the same. “Isn’t it so crazy that we’re responsible for this thing that is so intimate for a person we’ll never meet?” Gusick often thinks. “We’ll never get to look into their eyes, never get to shake and touch their hand. It’s this very special, unique thing that will only be crafted and given to them once.” It’s a heavy order, but Pāhiki hopes to treat it lightly.
People who work in the death-care industry bring the lessons they learn in the field into their daily lives in quiet but profound ways. Here is what Gusick and Baggett have learned from the dead about how to live better every day.
Be introspective “Most people should contemplate death; it shouldn’t be an afterthought,” Baggett says. “We know it’s coming, we know it’s part of life—it’s just a transition, in my eyes.” Thinking about death and removing its negative connotations can lead to a more present and purposeful approach to life.
Be clear about your wishes “Documentation is an act of love,” Gusick says. “Put it in writing and in thoughtful detail.” The way you live isn’t always enough to let loved ones know how you want to be buried.
Be nice “There are 20 million things I don’t know about a stranger, but there is one thing I can guarantee I know about them and that they know about me,” Gusick says. That is the inevitability of death. “In society, you can quickly and easily dehumanize another person in the way you talk about them off-handedly or the way you treat them, not thinking back to that completely timeless experience you know you share with that person. If you reverse-engineer that awareness when you interact with people, you can use it to make a kinder, more insightful connection with someone. Or, you know, just try to not be a jerk.”
This ran in our “living well” section, click to read the other story about Maui’s nude-friendly Little Beach.