For years, consumers have considered cremation as an environmentally-friendly way of final disposition, in comparison to traditional earth burial. Critics argue that chemicals used in the embalming process and the manufacturing of caskets and outer burial containers may be harmful to the environment as they are deteriorating underground. Thus cremation has been accepted as a simple, inexpensive and environmentally-conscious method for final disposition.
(Courtesy – Matthews Cremation)
Today, consumers have begun to analyze the method of the traditional cremation process and have come to the realization that cremation may not be so eco-friendly after all. Cremation is the reduction of the human body to ash (or cremated remains) by the use of flames. The body is placed into the cremation retort (or chamber) consisting of 1500 – 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The body is reduced to ash by air and heat. The remaining bone fragments and
ash are then pulverized into tiny pieces, placed into a cremation urn, and returned to the family. The concern argued by critics is that crematories emit toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. These chemicals include carbon monoxide, greenhouse gases, embalming agents (such as formaldehyde), and mercury found in dental fillings and medical implants. These chemicals are known to be associated with global warming and climate changes. Another concern is the use of natural gas, a non-renewable resource. Natural gas cannot be replenished naturally in a timely manner by the environment.
There are some green cemeteries that will not allow inurnment of cremated remains because the “green model” was not followed.
With the United States cremation rate at 42% and the projected rate to reach 49% by 2016 (Source: NFDA), funeral providers are researching even more alternative methods for a “greener” cremation. One of the newest and most green-efficient methods of cremation is called bio-cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis. With this process, the body is placed into a metal encasement, which is then placed into a machine called a Resomator. The Resomator is filled with a solution mixture of water and potassium and hydroxide and set to a temperature of over 350 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to prevent boiling. The heat and pressure, along with the solution mixture, reduce the body to bones. At the conclusion of the alkaline hydrolysis cycle, a small pool of a liquid greenish-brown syrup of amino acids, sugars, salts, and fats remains. The remaining bones are pulverized (similar to that of cremation), placed into an urn, and returned to the family. The liquid that remains is drained into the sewer. The entire process takes approximately 10 to 12 hours to complete. Alkaline hydrolysis uses much less energy, emits fewer greenhouse gases, does not release mercury into the atmosphere, and there is no concern for carbon emissions. This is by far the most environmentally and eco- friendly method of disposition. Several states have legalized alkaline hydrolysis as a method of final disposition, but others are still uncertain with this new form of disposition. Some states are concerned with the process of draining the remains into the sewer. Another concern is the cost for the alkaline hydrolysis equipment; it can be much more expensive than cremation. While the process of cremation is understood by the general public, alkaline hydrolysis is not. Misconceptions include the body being “boiled” or acids being used to convert the body into “sludge”.
In the long-term, each method of disposition is the same: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. The cremation method uses heat and air, the alkaline hydrolysis method uses heat, pressure, and a water/potassium solution, and the burial method uses the elements found in the soil. The methods of cremation and alkaline hydrolysis are obtained at a much faster rate, but eventually all three results are the same.