Water Cremation: Leaving the earth in the most environmentally responsible way possible
For a long time, people only had two options for how their bodies are treated after their death - burial or cremation. But that is now changing.
Many funeral industry professionals believe alkaline hydrolysis – or ‘water cremation’ is the way of the future as it offers a ‘greener’ alternative to flame-based cremation and burials.
Currently, the process is legal in about 18 US states, and 3 Canadian provinces, but it is growing in popularity. In British Columbia, the Aquamation BC Coalition has recently launched a petition to allow families to choose water cremation when faced with the death of a loved one. You can sign it here.
Also known as resomation, bio cremation, flameless cremation, or aquamation, the process uses water and potassium hydroxide to decompose human remains into bone ash.
How does water cremation work?
The body is placed into a porous basket inside an alkaline hydrolysis machine. A mixture of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide is added before being heated.
The water circulates through the remains and dissolves the soft tissue with a few hours. Part of what is left from a water cremation is similar to flame (the dry cremains), but the liquid remains are an incredible part as well! There are 25-35 gallons of liquid remains created with every water cremation.
The Natural Funeral says they don't treat that liquid or dispose of it since it's an incredible biostimulant/fertilizer. They have partnered with an organic farm that grows decorative plants and they donate most of the liquid remains to them.
However, families always have to option to have some or all of the liquid remains return to them to nourish a memorial tree or garden. The dry remains can be scattered, or kept in a keepsake like cremation jewelry, just like traditional flame-based cremated remains.
The environmental benefit of water cremation
The amount of water discharged at the end of the process is relatively small and easily treatable. Water cremation uses a fraction of the energy that a traditional flame-based cremation uses and creates no carbon emissions.
Unlike flame-based cremation, additional non-protein material contained in the body, such as dental fillings, titanium joints, pacemakers, Teflon or silicone implants, are recovered during the process. There are some that believe we could reuse these implants to reduce healthcare costs that would add to the benefit of this technology.
There are many challenges with burials. People live a much more transient way of life than past generations, with few people living in one place their whole life. There is also a growing graveyard real estate crunch, and an increasing desire to ‘go green’.
There are also questions about the safety of putting so many embalming fluids and other medical drugs into the ground.
Flame-based cremation causes air pollution through carbon emissions and other chemicals being released into the air. For densely populated cities, such as Los Angeles and Tokyo, where air pollution is a large concern, water cremation is way to help this. With more and more people being cremated, and the US national rate of cremation reaching 49% this year, it is a real concern.
Many people simply don’t want fossil fuel to be a part of their journey out of this world.
How much does water cremation cost?
Alkaline hydrolysis equipment is expensive; it may cost a provider between $150,000 and $400,000 to purchase a unit, depending on the size of the machine as well as the temperature and pressure at which the system can operate. That said, the costs of burial and cremation services vary widely and Alkaline hydrolysis may cost more, about the same, or less than traditional methods, depending on the provider and options you choose.
Read more about the process of alkaline hydrolysis on the website for the Cremation Association of America.