Cremation doesn’t require the vast acreage of land needed for cemeteries and doesn’t leave behind some 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde each year. With in-ground burial, there is also the problem of vast amounts of unrecycled metals, concrete, and wood left in the ground.
Can Traditional Cremation be Green Cremation
There is no question that new, state-of-the-art crematories are less hazardous to the environment that older cremation facilities. But even the latest equipment is far from perfect. Facilities consume large amounts of energy and release greenhouse gases, mercury, and other particulate matter into the atmosphere. State-of-the-art cremation furnaces have come a long way in reducing emissions. However, they still burn natural gas, which means the release of potentially harmful carbon dioxide and other gases.
New technologies for filtering and metal abatement continue to be put into service along with improvements in energy efficiency. Nevertheless, critics argue that the environmental impact of cremation is still much too severe.
Bio Cremation (Alkaline Hydrolysis)
These days, when we hear the term green cremation, we most often think of the technique called alkaline hydrolysis. This is the method that currently holds the most promise for providing environmentally gentle disposal of human remains.
Also referred to as bio cremation, aquamation, or resomation, alkaline hydrolysis uses a solution of water and potassium hydroxide instead of a high heat flame. The solution is heated to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which dissolves the body. What remains is a sterile liquid and bone fragments. The process takes 2-3 hours and is said to use 1/8th of the energy of traditional cremation. It also eliminates the emission of mercury vapors that result when burning dental amalgam.
History of Bio Cremation
Bio cremation is not new. In fact, Amos Herbert Hobson received a patent for the process in 1888. It received little attention until the late 1990s when the University of Florida began to use bio cremation to dispose of donated research cadavers. The Mayo Clinic began using it in 2006, and UCLA adopted the process around the same time.
As of September 2020, commercial use of bio cremation is legal in nineteen states, with several others considering legislation to permit its use. Unfortunately, though, legal does not mean readily available. In some states, such as Florida, the process has been used at the University of Florida for the disposal of research cadavers for years. However, there is still a limited number of facilities offering the service to the public. The same is true for California. Alkaline hydrolysis has been in use at UCLA for some time but was only recently cleared for use by consumers. It will still take some time before the process becomes widely available to the public.
STATES WHERE ALKALINE HYDROLYSIS IS LEGAL
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
To find out if the bio cremation or other green cremation options are available in your area, check with a local funeral director.
As consumers continue to look for more environmentally responsible alternatives, the process will become more widely accepted. The industry, however, is slow to change, so for many, traditional cremation is the only option.
One of the first steps taken to prepare a body for cremation is to remove medical implant devices such as pacemakers and dental prosthetics. The crematory may then contract with a specialized recycling company to handle the materials. The devices should never be sold back for orthopedic use; instead, they are generally melted down and repurposed.
Some states prohibit crematories from profiting from the sale of medical devices. In states where profit is not prohibited, recycling might be donated to charity or used as another revenue stream. It is up to you to decide if this type of income generation makes a difference in determining what facility you choose.
Most reputable crematoriums will disclose their policies and procedures for recycling in the package of authorization materials that you sign. If you do not see this in the information, do not feel uncomfortable asking about it.
Tips for Making Your Cremation a Green Cremation
With such a narrow range of choices when it comes to green cremation, there’s not much you can do about the technology that is used. You can, however, take steps to make sure that your cremation does the least amount of harm to the environment as possible.
- Choose a casket or cremation container made of non-toxic materials such as recycled cardboard.
- Purchase a biodegradable urn or container for the remains.
- Authorize your cremation facility to recycle medical parts and metals.
- Contribute to the carbon fund to offset emissions.
- Select a cremation provider that uses an energy-efficient furnace and filtering to minimize pollutants.
- If you are in an area where it is legal, consider bio cremation.
- Opt for a direct cremation in order to skip embalming.
- Scatter the ashes or consider burial at sea.