What Is Green Cremation? Process and Facts

Published July 14, 2020
Cremation urn and flowers in a vase

Green cremation, also referred to as flameless cremation, bio cremation, resomation, and aquamation, is an alternative to a standard fire-based cremation or burial. It's believed to be more environmentally friendly, but some people are still troubled by one important aspect. Once you understand what a green cremation is and how the process works, you can make an informed decision about whether you'd consider it for yourself or a loved one.

Green Cremation Overview

Green cremation is an environmentally conscious method for cremation that is designed to reduce the body of someone who has passed down to bones. It's also referred to in the funeral industry as a "water cremation" or "hydro cremation" because extremely hot water and potassium hydroxide are used to complete the process instead of fire. The technical name for this method is alkaline hydrolysis, and the Department of Anatomy at the Mayo Clinic has been using this method of final disposition, also known as resomation, since 2006 for whole-body donors in its Anatomy Bequest program.

How Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation Works

According to Cremation Institute, this is what happens during this type of cremation.

  1. The deceased person's body is wrapped in a natural material, typically a silk robe, and placed in a stainless steel chamber inside a machine called a resomator unit.
  2. The machine is then filled with about 80 gallons of a solution which contains 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide. The exact amount of solution needed is actually calculated by the machine after it weighs the body.
  3. The water is then heated to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and the unit is pressurized. This kills any bacteria present and dissolves the soft tissue remains.
  4. Once that part of the process is finished, the machine goes through a rinse cycle, the residual liquid is drained into a separate holding tank, and mainly bone fragments remain.
  5. The fragments are inspected to remove any non-natural items such as dental fillings and medical implants. The fragments are then dried and pulverized to a fine, white powder which can be placed in a suitable container or urn like other cremains.

Concerns About Environmental and Emotional Impacts

What seems to trouble people the most about the process is the disposal of the water in the holding tank. Some may feel they are washing part of their loved one down a drain or otherwise treating the body with disrespect, while others are worried about a possible environmental impact of sending the liquid through a waste-water treatment system.

Addressing Green Cremation Concerns

According to a report published on BBC.com, the liquid that remains after a green cremation is "... a sterile mix of amino acids and peptides, with no human DNA." Furthermore, the fluid's pH is tested and adjusted, if needed, before it's finally drained. The Cremation Association of North America claims this fluid is actually cleaner than most waste water that enters waste-water treatment plants.

Flameless Cremation aka Bio Cremation Facts

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, alkaline hydrolysis offers environmental benefits.

  • Flameless cremation requires only 1/8 the amount of energy that a fire-based cremation does.
  • About 20% more bone fragments are preserved and returned to loved ones.
  • No mercury vapors are released from dental amalgams when using the water cremation process.
  • Alkaline hydrolysis results in a 75% smaller carbon footprint than fire-based cremation.
  • No casket is required.

Green Cremation.com also shares some important facts.

  • Traditional burial takes 25 years or more to reduce the remains to bone, while bio cremation typically only takes two to three hours.
  • Bio cremation is a gentle process which requires no acids or boiling.
  • Pacemakers do not need to be removed before going through the green cremation process.
  • "The body is recycled without harm to the environment."

How Much Does Green Cremation Cost?

Funeral costs vary from one provider to the next, and so does the cost of a green cremation. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, the price for the basic procedure averages about $2,300, which is approximately three times the cost of a fire-based direct cremation. This is mainly because very few funeral homes currently have a resomation unit, so the cost may go down in the future if the practice becomes more common and available. This price does not include the cost of any additional services such as holding a traditional funeral either before or after the cremation is completed.

Where Is Bio Cremation Legal?

This is a complicated question. In the USA, bio cremation is legal in some states and not yet legal in others. Even in states where it is deemed legal, there may not yet be facilities available to carry out this type of cremation. For this reason, you should check the laws in your state.

Bio Cremation Outside the USA

In addition to the USA, bio cremation is also legal and available in certain areas of Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Mexico. More countries may legalize the practice in the future.

Green Cremation May Be the Answer

With increasingly limited space for traditional burials and growing environmental awareness, green cremation may one day be the most common option. Take some time to find out if it's available in your area and then discuss it with your loved ones. Then you can decide if it's a good choice for you and your family.

What Is Green Cremation? Process and Facts