Every day more than 155,000 people are buried or cremated worldwide. The huge ecological footprint of these two processes calls into question the environmental sustainability of our corpse management system. For this reason, new techniques have emerged such as resomation or alkaline hydrolysis and procreation, two alternatives to cremation that reinvent green burial and respond to changing market dynamics in favour of an environmentally responsible model.
Burial and cremation are the two most common methods for managing dead bodies in most countries, but they are not the most environmentally friendly techniques. An average-sized human body emits about 27 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during cremation. And, despite improved crematoria, gaseous residues can be generated, which are hazardous to the atmosphere. Burial, on the other hand, generates a larger ecological footprint and results in CO2 emissions equivalent to 3.6 cremations.
In view of global population growth, the ecological footprint generated by funeral services is a problem that will become much more acute in the near future. Currently, the global average number of people dying every day is more than 155,000, while almost 373,000 people are born every day. The average daily population growth worldwide demonstrates the need to find sustainable alternatives to traditional cremation and burial.
North America, a pioneer in this technique
In the quest for environmentally friendly cremation, experts have developed new techniques such as promation or resomation. For the time being, water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, as resomation is also known, is available in a few funeral homes, mostly located in the United States and Canada. However, market dynamics have changed in favour of a more environmentally responsible model and customers are already demanding sustainable products and services, so it seems likely that these eco-friendly alternatives will eventually replace traditional cremation.
What is resomation?
Resomation, also known as biocremation or green cremation, uses a process of alkaline hydrolysis to reduce a corpse to dust in just three to four hours by using one-eighth of the energy required for cremation and with a 35% reduction in carbon emissions. This technique is already available in several US states (Florida, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon) and its use is in the process of being regulated in the UK.
First, the body is placed in a coffin or shroud made of biodegradable materials before being carefully placed in the water creamer, where the body is returned to its basic organic elements in a short period of time.
The water cremator, or resomation capsule, is a pressurised system where potassium hydroxide and water are mixed at 170 degrees Celsius. “Instead of fire, we use water and an alkaline-based substance. It’s about 95% water at high pressure and high temperature, and this chemically reduces the body to ash, and that pure white ash at the end of the process is returned to relatives as is done in cremation,” explained the creator of resomation, Sandy Sullivan, in an interview with the BBC.
Advantages of alkaline hydrolysis as an environmentally friendly cremation method
Alkaline hydrolysis imitates the natural decomposition process of a body, but in a faster and cleaner way. In addition, according to Sullivan, resomation allows for the recycling of implants and the recovery of dental amalgams, most of which are made of mercury. In this way, the toxic metal can be safely removed to prevent it from being dumped underground and potentially leaching into aquifers or groundwater.
Resomation requires one eighth of the energy needed for cremation and results in a 35% reduction in carbon emissions.
In addition, as stated above, it requires only one eighth of the energy required for cremation and results in a 35% reduction in carbon emissions, thereby significantly reducing the environmental footprint and reducing costs for undertakers.
Founder and director of Resomation Ltd, Sandy Sullivan, said: “Water cremation now offers a new, innovative but dignified approach that uses significantly less energy and emits significantly less greenhouse gases than flame cremation. Once again, we are on the cusp of revolutionising the funeral industry with the opportunity to provide people with an environmental alternative at the end of life”.