Some people think that a method that reduces a body to a greenish-brown liquid and bone fragments is a barbaric way to say our final goodbyes to a loved one. Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that uses heat, lye, pressure, and circulation; the body is put inside a steel vessel with about 80 gallons of water that is heated up to 300 degrees. In a few short hours, most of the body dissolves into liquid and the remaining bone is ground into ash.
Does that sound any more gross than, let’s say, putting a body into a brick-lined oven and exposing it to intense heat and fire that can reach temperatures of almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit? Almost half of us choose cremation, which, to be blunt, is basically incineration. Then there is the option in which bodily fluids are removed and replaced with a formaldehyde-based chemical solution. Our loved one’s eyes are then glued shut, the jaw is sewn or wired shut, and the corpse is put on display (usually wearing more make-up than the person ever did in life). Instead of letting the departed body go off with its soul (if you believe that), embalming basically preserves the body until the coffin is placed underground. (Does anyone think about what happens to the body at that point? That is really gross.)
In contrast to these complicated and unnatural methods of disposition, alkaline hydrolysis, which is more palatably referred to as “green cremation” or “bio-cremation” accelerates the ordinary decay process. Short of just allowing a body to decay naturally, green cremation is the most environmentally-friendly process available. It reduces greenhouse emissions by using less electricity and gas than a traditional cremation and produces no airborne emission of mercury in contrast to cremation. So, for all of us who are so careful about reducing air pollution by recycling and driving a Prius, why not make one final green gesture? And, with a green cremation, your family can still scatter your ashen remains over one of your favorite stomping grounds or keep an urn on the fireplace mantle.
There are thirteen states in which green cremation is legal, including Minnesota, Florida, Oregon, Georgia, Illinois, and Maine. Minnesota was the first to approve its usage. In the early 2000s, the Mayo Clinic began using the process for disposing of the bodies that had been donated for medical research. Minnesota defines alkaline hydrolysis as a separate process for disposing of a human corpse in its statutes, but most states have simply broadened their definitions of cremation in the statutes to permit “other dissolution processes”. However, there is still limited usage of green cremation in these states in which it is legal.
The problem is marketing. Who wouldn’t want a method of final disposition that is simple, efficient, cost-effective, natural and good for the environment? That does sound a lot better than pouring momma down the drain.