What is water cremation? What happens to the body during resomation

What is water cremation? Here’s what happens to the human body during the resomation process

  • An ‘aquamation’ emits fewer greenhouse gases than a traditional cremation
  • Process said to cut the amount of harmful carbon dioxide by up to 90 per cent
  • Co-op Funeralcare has confirmed it will offer the service later this year

Aquamations are coming to Britain, as Co-op Funeralcare has confirmed that it will offer the service later this year.

Also known as alkaline hydrolysis, resomations, or water cremations, the process involves rapidly decomposing a corpse in a stream of water and alkaline chemicals – leaving only liquid and bones. 

It offers an eco-conscious alternative to burials and cremations, which burn lots of fuel and emit greenhouse gases. 

But what is a water cremation and what happens to the human body during the process?

MailOnline reveals its step-by-step guide to water cremations. 

The process offers an eco-conscious alternative to burials and cremations, which burns lots of fuel and emits greenhouse gas

Water cremation speeds up body’s breakdown, turning all but bones into liquid. Pictured: A resomator used for water cremations

What is a water cremation? 

What happens during a water cremation? 

During the aquamation process, the body is placed in a stainless steel vessel. 

Alkali is added, based on individual characteristics (weight, sex, embalming status), before the the vessel fills with water. 

The solution of 95 per cent water and five per cent alkali is heated to 200-300°F, and gently circulated for the entire length of the process.

At the end of the process, all material is broken down to the smallest building blocks; there is no DNA or RNA remaining. 

The sterile process water is released for recycling, and the vessel performs a fresh water rinse for the equipment and remains. 

When the operator opens the door, only the inorganic bone minerals remain, which are processed into powder and returned to the family in an urn. 

This final processing step is the same process that is followed with flame cremation. 

Why is it better for the environment? 

According to the Atlantic, aquamation has about one-tenth of the environmental impact of flame cremation, which requires a lot of fuel. 

A cremation is bad for the environment because it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air.

The process involves heating the body in a mixture of potassium hydroxide and water for up to 90 minutes. Pictured: A Resomation Ltd resomator

READ MORE: Would YOU liquify your dead pet? 

One company in Seattle called Resting Waters offers aquamation of a dead pet for up to $550 (£430), depending on the size. Pictured, a company employee pours water into the aquamation machine, built by Bio-Response Solutions

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the average cremation produces about 535 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent to driving a car about 600 miles. 

Another traditional option is a burial, but the problem with this is the vessel containing the body often takes years to decompose in the soil if it’s made of metal or plastic. 

Even if the vessel is compostable, such as a pine box, the decomposing corpse doesn’t usually have a healthy impact on the soil and can often stop grass and plants growing properly. 

How much does it cost?

While the cost for aquamations remains unclear, Funeral Guide claims that it will be around the same prices as a traditional cremation. 

‘It’s anticipated that an eco-friendly cremation will be priced around the same that’s charged for a traditional flame cremation,’ it explains on its website. 

‘These costs can vary at crematoria around the UK – and the fee is usually included as part of the total funeral bill.’ 

Why has interest in water cremations risen in Britain?

Interest in water cremations rose after Archbishop Desmond Tutu chose the eco-friendly process for his remains following his death on Boxing Day in 2021.

The Dean of St George’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Weeder, said Archbishop Tutu had ‘aspired to as an eco-warrior’.

Interest in water cremations rose after Archbishop Desmond Tutu (pictured) chose the eco-friendly process for his remains

When will it be available in Britain?

The Co-op, the largest funeral provider arranging more than 93,000 funerals a year, will work with sustainability experts to confirm existing research during its initial regional pilot later this year. 

The practice is growing in popularity in the US, Canada and South Africa. 

Its introduction will mark the first time an alternative to burial or cremation will be available since the Cremation Act in 1902.

A poll for Co-op Funeralcare found 89 per cent of adults had not heard of resomation but once explained, a third said they would choose it for their funeral.

Professor Douglas Davies, a death rites expert at Durham University, said: ‘The reduced carbon footprint that may come with resomation means it will be of interest to many people.’

The human remains are rinsed in a solution at 120C (248F), dried and pulverised into ashes before being handed to relatives to be kept or scattered. Pictured: A Resomation Ltd resomator

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