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General News · 24th September 2022
Margaret Verschuur
Aquamation is a method of cremation that is significantly more environmentally responsible than fire-based cremation. Also known as alkaline hydrolysis, resomation, and water cremation, it involves liquefying the body under pressure in a mixture of potassium hydroxide and water. The decomposition process is the same as that which occurs naturally when a body is buried, but at an accelerated rate. Although available in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland/Labrador and the Northwest Territories, aquamation is not currently an option here in BC.

A casket is not used. The body, shrouded in biodegradable material, is placed inside a pressurized steel container. The chamber is filled with a mixture of 95% water and 5% alkali, then heated to about 150° Celsius (temperature varies with equipment). The solution circulates around the body, dissolving all of the soft tissue in as little as several hours. The liquid is sterile and can be recycled through the normal wastewater treatment facility or repurposed as fertilizer. As in flame-based cremation, the skeletal remains are pulverized and returned to loved ones to do with as they wish.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, long known as not only an anti-apartheid activist and theologian, but also a champion of environmental causes, died on Dec 26, 2022. By choosing aquamation he brought this method to public attention.

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, alkaline hydrolysis uses ⅛ of the energy and leaves less than ¼ of the carbon footprint of flame cremation. No mercury emissions are released, and no fossil fuels are used. Joints and implants, even plastic ones, are recovered. Aquamation has been used for cadavers in the Mayo Clinic since 2005, in the funeral industry since 2011, and is currently legal for pets in BC.

The public reaction to water cremation appears similar to that when flame cremation was first introduced. Many found the process of applying intense heat and fire to burn a body, and then have the leftover bone fragments ground into a powder, disrespectful. Water cremation is gentler and more natural. Caitlin Doughty (see her videos on YouTube) says she considers it less violent to put Gramma into a warm bath than into a fire. Once established, water cremation will cost about the same as flame cremation.

Natural burial is currently the only eco-positive method for returning a body to the earth. We are fortunate to have this option on Cortes, and that it is affordable here. But with the cremation rate well over 80% in BC, and with so many of us aging, we need this environmentally responsible alternative to flame cremation available in our province. Please help bring aquamation to BC by taking a minute to sign the on-line petition on aquamationbc.ca.