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From Water to Dust - The Rise of Aquamation in the Funeral Industry

Updated: Sep 6, 2023


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“For surely we will die and be like water spilled on the ground,…”

2 Samuel 14:14


What is Aquamation


Aquamation, also known as Water Cremation or alkaline hydrolysis, is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional cremation and burial methods. The process involves placing the deceased in a pressurized chamber filled with water and an alkaline solution, such as potassium hydroxide, and then using heat and pressure to break down the body’s tissues. According to the language on withpisces.com – an Aquamation company that is beginning to be at the forefront of the California water cremation business –“It is important to note that while Alkali salts are only used to speed up the natural water decomposition process. It is the water that does the cremating – not the Alkali. Temperatures inside the water cremation chamber reach a maximum of around 200F as opposed to 1800F with flame cremation.”After several hours, the process is complete and the body has been transformed into a sterile liquid solution and bone fragments. The resulting liquid is then safely drained away and the remaining bones are processed into a powder a “pure mineral ash” that can be returned to the family as a memorial.


Choices for a greener end-of-life


This process is gaining popularity as people look for more sustainable and environmentally friendly options for their end-of-life arrangements. It is another alternative to ground burial and even human composting as it does not require soil microbes to take over the process. According to a survey conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, 54% of Americans are interested in eco-friendly funeral options, which gives optimism, but as we see there is still a lot of work at the grassroots level in raising awareness of all the sustainable and “greener” alternatives. Compared to traditional cremation, aquamation uses 90% less energy with zero carbon emissions and virtually no environmental impact. It also eliminates the need for embalming fluids, which contain toxic chemicals and can be more cost-effective in the long run due to lower energy usage.


Fears and Phobias


Nevertheless, we must be aware of some legal barriers to the widespread adoption of aquamation. While it is legal in some states, others have yet to approve it for use in funeral services. Their reasoning could be questioned as a defense of the status quo and how change impacts the institutions. One concern that has been expressed is about the disposal of the alkaline solution, which can contain trace amounts of human DNA. Considering DNA modifications are in the hot spot of current scientific endeavors some have touted the possible danger of illegal acquisition of someone's DNA. Some religious groups have expressed dismay about the process being disrespectful to the dead. Additionally, there are concerns about the safety and disposal of the leftover bones, which are not always properly handled.


Despite these challenges, many people are considering aquamation as a more sustainable and eco-friendly option for their final farewell. As the demand for green funeral alternatives continues to grow, it is possible that aquamation will become more widely available and accepted in the near future.


The Rise of Aquamation in the Funeral Industry


In California, the Rise of Aquamation in the Funeral Industry has been gaining momentum in recent years. In 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that legalized the practice of human remains, making California the third state in the US to do so after Oregon and Maryland. Prior to this, aquamation was already widely used in the pet industry for the disposal of animal remains. As more Californians become aware of the benefits of this service, funeral homes, and cremation service providers have started to offer it as an option. Many others see it as a more natural and respectful way to handle the remains of their loved ones, as opposed to the harshness of traditional cremation or the permanence, land use, and cost of burial.


Desmond Tutu, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner was recently cremated using the aquamation process. His family said that the decision to use aquamation was in line with Tutu’s commitment to environmental sustainability and his belief in the importance of caring for the planet. Arch as he was known by friends (Archbishop Desmond Tutu) was, along with the Dalia Lamma, one of the world best known spiritual leaders. Their friendship was rooted in a shared sense of joy and of purpose: to foster and spread joy around the globe in order to address and counter its despair. How much of that despair relates to the loss of our environment, our home,, and our values? According to The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, he “vociferously campaigned for a gentler stewardship of the Earth, and against the coming ravages of climate change.”


2 Samuel 14.14 “For surely we will die and be like water spilled on the ground which cannot be recovered.” But God does not just sweep life away, instead, he devises ways to bring us back.


We believe that through telling the life stories of our loved ones and sharing those with family and friends, we can have a place for our grief journey to reside, and our stories to grow and we can celebrate the life our loved one lived. If you choose to leave this world with an environmental legacy, let part of that be in the way you give back to the Planet that has supported your life in your end-of-life choice for your body and burial.


Sources: 

  • https://time.com/6151559/aquamation-cremation-funeral-alternative/

  • https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/02/what-is-aquamation-the-process-behind-desmond-tutus-green-cremation

  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/could-water-cremation-become-the-new-american-way-of-death-180980479/

  • https://eirene.ca/blog/understanding-aquamation

  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dissolve-the-dead-controversy-swirls-around-liquid-cremation/

  • https://www.lionsroar.com/the-dalai-lama-and-desmond-tutu-the-best-of-spiritual-friends/

  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350382441_The_admissibility_of_newtechniques_of_disposing_of_the_dead

  • https://documents.parliament.qld.gov.au/com/ERC-486F/E-1ACC/submissions/00000016.pdf

  • https://www.studyiq.com/articles/aquamation-water-cremation-ecofriendly-cremation-chosen-desmond-tutu-free-pdf/

  • https://www.petmemorialcenter.ca/aquamation/TNO_report_Environmental_impact_of_different_funeral_technologies.pdf

  • https://www.youtube.com/watchv=qc4v7AvqigU&ab_channel=TheArtificialIntelligenceChannel

  • https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/environment/587986-why-the-body-of-nobel-peace-prize-winner-was/

  • https://www.withpisces.com/sacramento-water-cremation-services

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