THIRD IN A SERIES ON GREEN(ER) CHOICES

History

Resomation a/k/a alkaline hydrolysis, bio cremation, water cremation, flameless cremation, and aqua cremation, was a process originally designed in the late 1800s to convert animal carcasses to plant food. In 2007, biochemist Sandy Sullivan founded Resomation Ltd in Scotland to promote the process as a more gentle and environmentally-friendly method of human body disposition. The term “resomation” was purposely chosen as “resoma” is a Greek/Latin derivation meaning “rebirth of the human body.” By reducing the body back to its most basic elements, resomation makes these elements available to return to the earth, helping to create new life.

In the U.S., resomation has been used since the mid-90s by the Mayo Clinic to dispose of donated whole-body donors and, in 2003, Minnesota was the first state in the U.S. to approve resomation as a human body disposition option. Currently, resomation is legal in 15 states, although not all states have resomators operating yet.

Resomation is viewed as more environmentally friendly because it utilizes roughly the same process that breaks down a body were it to be buried without embalming and in a bio-degradable shroud or box. However, resomation accomplishes the return to basic elements in hours instead of years, and it doesn’t require a grave. Resomation also avoids releasing toxic chemicals like mercury from amalgam fillings into the atmosphere, and it uses far less energy (85%) than flame cremation.

Process

Resomation utilizes water, temperature, and alkalinity to gently reduce a body to bone fragments in approximately four to six hours. The chemicals used are those present in many household cleaning products, as well as in soil. The effluent produced by resomation (a body is 65% water) is sterile and returned to the common sewer system.

Once resomation is complete, the remaining bone fragments are processed into a fine, white ash and any non-consumed items such as dental fillings, metal implants, and pacemakers are recycled. The remaining ashes are placed into a plastic bag labeled with the name of the deceased or directly into an urn selected by the family. Resomation remains can be treated the same as cremains, in increasingly creative ways (see yesterday’s cremation article).

Concerns

While far less environmentally damaging as embalming/contemporary burial and cremation, resomation has received criticism for the amount of water it uses (roughly 400 gallons per resomation) and (referring to the effluent produced and disposed of) as “flushing Grandma down the drain.” The Catholic Church and some funeral providers deem resomation as “disrespectful to the sacredness of the human body.” You may recall that the Catholic Church initially viewed cremation as disrespectful, but reversed this opinion in 1963, approving cremation as a conditional option for body disposition.

Some folks recoil at the “ick factor” associated with the effluent produced by resomation. However, all fluids are drained from a body prior to embalming, and those fluids all go down the drain, too, but at a significantly higher environmental cost.

What are you questions or concerns about resomation? Are you experiencing the “ick factor?” Can you see it as a viable alternative to the much greater carbon footprint of cremation or embalming? Let’s discuss!

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