A Greener Cremation

Sustainability Problem

  • 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
  • Cemeteries
  • 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.



One thought on “A Greener Cremation

  1. 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.


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