Green cremation is a modern way to perform cremation—and it is gaining popularity. It is similar to traditional cremation, reducing human remains to ashes and bone fragments. The difference is, green cremation does not use a flame.
Read more to find out how the process works, environmental benefits, and why it might be the best method of disposition.
What is Green Cremation?
Green cremation is term that refers to an eco-friendly alternative method used to cremate a body. Also called water cremation, it is a flameless method that uses potassium hydroxide and water to reduce the body to bone fragments. The end result produces the same type of human ashes you get from traditional cremation.
The scientific term for a green cremation is alkaline hydrolysis. What happens during this process is essentially the same chemical process that occurs when a body decomposes after burial in a casket. The use of alkaline hydrolysis speeds the process of decomposition.
The process of green cremation is also called bio-cremation, water cremation, aquamation, resomation, and flameless cremation.
How Water Cremation Works
The process of green cremation requires a special type of equipment and training. The machine that is used has a single chamber that is air and watertight. It can hold up to one hundred gallons (~378 liters) of liquid.
- First, the intact body of the deceased will be placed in the chamber and sealed.
- The chamber is then filled with an alkaline solution consisting of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide. The exact amount of alkaline solution poured into the chamber depends on the sex, body mass index (bmi), and weight of the deceased.
- To accelerate the rate of decomposition, the solution will be subjected to heat, pressure, and or agitation. This varies depending on the equipment used. In some equipment, the contents are heated up to 300-320 degrees Fahrenheit (149-160 degrees Celsius). The pressure is then elevated to prevent the solution from boiling.
- This chemical process breaks down the body of the deceased. What’s left will be bone fragments and a sterile liquid. The solid bone fragments are reduced to pure white and are now called hydrolyzed remains or cremated remains.
- The bone remains are allowed to dry so they can be pulverized. The end result is the same very similar to a traditional cremation with one exception. The remains from a green cremation will be 32% greater. Human “ashes” from both types of cremation are, more accurately, pulverized bone fragments.
There are approximately 32% more ashes yielded from a green cremation compared to traditional cremation.
Just like traditional cremated ashes, the bereaved family can dispose of the remains in any way they see fit. Remains can be stored, scattered, or buried. And there are countless ways to remember your loved one in a creative manner.
Benefits of Green Cremation
Green cremation is a new alternative to existing methods of body disposition. Water cremation is viewed as the most eco-friendly method for the final disposition of the body. The process is relatively more controlled and a gentler process.
The result is a smaller carbon footprint because it avoids consumption of significant amounts of fuel, wood, and embalming chemicals.
- The body is not embalmed
- No casket is used
The main advantage of green cremation over traditional methods is that is easier on the environment. Less fuel is required and it avoids mercury emissions, which are byproducts of heat cremation. The total energy necessary to perform a green cremation is significantly less than incineration.
According to a study, alkaline hydrolysis uses 90% less energy and produces 27% less carbon output than incineration. Water cremation also reduces mercury emissions which are toxic and known to be a health concern.
The overall chemical process of green cremation leaves behind a sterile liquid that is non-toxic. It is comprised of peptides, amino acids, and sugar that can be disposed without harming the environment.
The cost of a green cremation is about the same price as a traditional cremation. As compared with traditional burials, it shares the same price advantages as conventional cremation—they are both generally less expensive.
Remembering a loved one is a personal choice. Often, cost is not a priority at this time. But if cost is a factor, a green cremation can be a good solution. Additional costs associated with funeral services and burial may not be needed. And depending on final choices, you might avoid casket and burial plot expenses.
In traditional cremation (incineration), medical attachments in the body such as pacemaker must be removed to avoid damage to the equipment. There is no need to remove medical implants for bio-cremation.
It is also found that green cremation yields whiter ashes compared to the method of incinerating body remains. Incineration sometimes changes the color of bones into gray or other darker shades.
Is Green Cremation Available in My State?
Green cremation, or specifically the process of alkaline hydrolysis, is currently legal in some states. According to NOLO, it has been legalized in 18 states (19 if including Michigan).
- North Carolina
*According to NOLO, alkaline hydrolysis is being practiced in Michigan, but there are no statutes or regulations that explicitly allow it. Though some Michigan-based funeral homes offer it in their materials, it is unclear whether the alkaline hydrolysis facilities they offer are in-state.
Alkaline hydrolysis was first legalized in the state of Minnesota in 2013.
Although green cremation is legal in 19 states, not all of these states have operating providers for alkaline hydrolysis. It can be challenging for supporters to use this eco-friendly option.
If you want a green cremation and it is not available in the state where you live, consider exploring options in neighboring states.
You may not have to travel. Your funeral home may be able to work directly with a facility in a neighboring state. The body will be transferred and the remains returned after the process. In most cases, it is easier to transfer the body and return the ashes so the cremation service can occur remotely.
We recommend researching solutions in advance since availability and charges differ between facilities.
Green cremation is an eco-friendly method of cremating the body of a loved one without flames. The scientific term for this process is alkaline hydrolysis. The chemical process that happens during a green cremation is essentially the same natural process that occurs to a body after it is buried. Green cremation accelerates the time a body takes to decompose from a few years to a few hours through a combination of alkalinity, temperature, and pressure.
Green cremation is performed after any viewing or services. In the actual process of alkaline hydrolysis, the body is placed in a stainless steel container. A solution of 95% water and 5% alkali fill the chamber and it is then heated to start the breakdown of organic materials.
At the end of the process, all organic material is broken down and only the bones remain. The bones are then pulverized and returned to the family as the ashes of the deceased. Traditional cremation ashes are pulverized bone fragments as well, so the end result is the same, but green cremation results in 32% more ashes.
Water cremation takes about 3 to 16 hours, depending on the body mass and weight of the deceased, as well as the operating temperature of the equipment.
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