Water cremation is an alternative process for the transformation of human remains using alkaline hydrolysis, by which bodies are dissolved into a liquid. Water cremation was recently in the news as it was chosen by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who died in December 2021. Water cremation is an alternative option versus traditional cremation or burial.
Water cremation is also called:
- Flameless cremation
Water cremation process
The body is placed into a silk bag within a metal frame and then lowered into a chamber. The chamber is filled with a high-temperature (160 degrees Celsius) mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, which is pressurized to prevent boiling. The process takes approximately three hours. The bone ash is generally processed in a cremulator and can be scattered just like cremated remains, and the liquid recycled back into the ecosystem.
What are the benefits of water cremation?
The growing green burial movement calls water cremation a more environmentally friendly way of processing remains. Unlike cremation, water cremation sterilizes rather than destroys bone implants, leaving them potentially recyclable, and it doesn’t vaporize the toxic mercury found in dental fillings.
While some proponents of water cremation argue it is better for the environment because the process uses less energy and produces less carbon dioxide than cremation, there is still a significant energy draw to heat and pressurize the water in the chamber.
History of water cremation
The process was first proposed as a method of disposing of cows infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) because the end product is a sterile, genetically-free green-brown liquid containing ash, chemical components (amino acids, peptides, sugars, salts), and porous bone fragments.
The Mayo Clinic has used water cremation for years when it receives body donations.
The average cost for water cremation is around $3,000, while the average cost for traditional burial is around $7,848 and the average cost for cremation is around $3,000.
Where is water cremation legal?
- North Carolina
The following states are in the process of creating aquamation regulations:
- Arizona (HB 2179 amends the law to include alkaline hydrolysis definitions and licensing fees)
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
While water cremation is currently not legal in New Hampshire, Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium is considering offering the service for Vermont families.
In New Hampshire, the water cremation process was legalized in 2006, but this decision was reversed in 2007, because it was introduced into legislation that was created to regulate cremation and the water cremation process bears very little resemblance to cremation.