- The environmental impact of a “full service” burial is significant; including the resources for the concrete vaults, steel and timber for caskets, and the annual use of over 800,000 gallons of carcinogenic formaldehyde in the US alone.
- Cemeteries have very little space for native plant or animal life.
- Cremation causes less environmental impact than burial, however the process releases an average of 532 pounds of CO2 per body and other toxic gases into the atmosphere.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 56 Million people die worldwide (2012).
Summary of the technology
- The process of Alkaline Hydrolysis was patented by Amos Hebert Hobson in 1888, however it has only recently been used by the funeral industry.
- The body is introduced into a pressurized steel chamber, where a solution of water, salt and potash creates an alkali solution to decompose the body organically. The solution is heated to 350 degrees and dissolves soft tissues in 2-3 hours.
- Once the body has been decomposed, the sterile waste is safely disposed into the sewer system. The remaining skeleton is crushed into ash.
- The process takes longer than flame-based cremation, however it uses less energy and emits no CO2.
- Funeral home operators
- Producers of caskets, formaldehyde, and other funeral-related products
- The environment
- The bereaved
- The cost of an alkaline hydrolysis unit is approximately $150,000, which is almost double the cost of an energy efficient flame-based cremation unit; costs are anticipated to come down with wider-scale implementation.
- Depending on the funeral home the cost of the green alternative can run as high as 3 times a flame-based cremation, but it can be less expensive than full service burials.
- This process is only legal in 13 US states and 3 Canadian provinces, however due to the environmental benefits other states, including New York and California, are considering legalizing it.
- AquaGreen Dispositions
- Rodriguez, “Canadian Funeral Home Dissolves the Dead and Pours them Down the Drain”, Inhabitat, June 2016
- Rubin, “Comparing Cremation and Alkaline Hydrolysis”, A Good Goodbye, November, 2012
- Seven Ponds, Embracing the End-of-Life Experience, “Environmental Impact of Death”
- World Health Organization, “The Top 10 Causes of Death”
One thought on “A Greener Cremation”
Thanks Sean, this is a really interesting technology. However I feel like there may need to be massive changes in mindset for it to really take off. On top of the associated costs, funerals are so emotionally-driven that I think an important aspect of the success of this technology will be the emphasis and proper ‘packaging’ of the positive green impacts that will eventually persuade more environmentally-conscious individuals.