Maine still has one of the highest cremation rates in the US. Here’s how it works.

An urn of ashes is placed in the ground at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. (BDN file photo)

An urn of ashes is placed in the ground at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. (BDN file photo)

Mainers continue to be among the most likely people in America to choose cremation after death, according to new data released this month by the Cremation Association of North America.

The trade group found that in 2014, 71.2 percent of Mainers who died opted to have their bodies cremated instead of buried in a coffin. That’s a higher percentage than all but four other states (Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii), and represents an increase from the 64 percent figure reported in 2010.

In Maine, some cemetery operators expect the rising cremation rates to help avoid what might have otherwise been a serious space crunch in the coming years.

It’s been well-documented that Maine’s population is aging — with the nation’s oldest median age of 43.5 years and counting. That trend also increases the numbers of annual deaths and burials, but because cremated remains take up half the space of traditional burials, many cemetery directors say they can handle the uptick in demand.

While there’s no universal reason why individuals choose cremation — some believe it’s better for the environment, for instance — one factor likely influencing the decisions is cost. According to NBC News, the average cost of a traditional burial is greater than $6,500, while cremation hovers around $1,600 (including the costs of memorial services in both cases).

TIME magazine places those numbers at $7,755 and $2,570, respectively.

There’s some versatility in what survivors can do with the ashes as well. They can be scattered at a location with some sentimental value, or, as the video below reports, the ashes can be blasted into space or made into shotgun shells.

So how does cremation work? My Bangor Daily News colleague Nok-Noi Ricker explained the entire step-by-step process in detail in an informative story that can be read by clicking here.

The short version is that the remains are sort of evaporated under 1,650-degree heat in an oven called a retort, and what’s left is pulverized into the ash people are used to seeing in an urn or other memorial container.

In its announcement of the latest data, the trade association attributed cremation percentages to organized religion participation — states where large numbers of people identify with an organized religion had low cremation percentages, while states without high religious participation were found with greater cremation rates.

A quick review of recent Gallup research into church-going habits seems to back that assumption up, at least generally. Four of the top five states for cremation — including Maine — also appear on Gallup’s list of 10 states with the lowest church attendance.

All five of the states with the lowest cremation rates in the country are among Gallup’s 10 states with the highest church attendance. (Those states are Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and Utah, if you’re curious.)

Here’s the association’s findings and sales pitch in the form of a trendy infographic:

CANA Infographic