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Water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, is a process for the disposal of human and also per remains, which uses lye and heat. This process is being targeted to environmentally conscious people as an alternative to the more traditional options of burial and regular cremation. The process was originally created by Amos Herbert Hobson in 1888 as a method to process animal carcasses into plant food, but it is currently gaining popularity in the funeral home industry.
The process of water cremation is based on alkaline hydrolysis. The body is placed into a pressurized vessel. This vessel is filled with a potassium hydroxide and water mixture. The temperature is then heated to approximately 160 degrees Celsius. However, because of the elevated pressure, the mixture will not boil. The body will begin to slowly break down into its chemical components. This will take around four to six hours depending on the size of the body and the temperature used.
At the end of the process, the remaining liquid will be properly disposed of either through the sanitary sewer system or other sanitary methods, such as use in a green space or garden. The leftover ash will then be returned to the next of kin just as a normal cremation. The next of kin can do whatever they or their loved one wished to have done with their ashes. Typically they will choose to have them buried, scattered or placed in an urn. These are all still viable options through the water cremation process.
This process has been encouraged by numerous ecological campaigning groups. It uses a quarter of the energy of normal cremation and produces fewer pollutants, such as carbon dioxide. There are also no mercury emissions associated with water cremation. As of 2007, there were approximately one thousand people in the US that chose this process for the disposition of their remains. There are also a handful of companies in the US that offer this process to dispose of pet remains. Another plus is that the process inactivates viruses and bacteria that may pose a health risk, which also makes it a great method for disposing of any animal carcasses that may pose a health hazard to our community.
This method of body disposition is currently legal in sixteen states, including Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, Illinois, Maine, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. There are also additional rules pending in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. This process was once legal in New Hampshire, but opposition from religious groups made the state ban water cremation in 2008 and reject a proposal to once again legalize it in 2013. Many colleges, including the University of Florida and UCLA, have also used the process in their research clinics. The sanitary and environmentally friendly benefits of this process will most likely aide in the popularity of water cremations, and we will begin to see this process start to boom in the next few years.