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"Green" Cremation Finally a Reality

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Environmentally conscious dead guys will have the opportunity to leave less of a mark beginning in the next few weeks, as St. Petersburg, Florida's Anderson-McQueen funeral home gets set to press its new alkaline hydrolysis machine into service.

We took a look at the process at almost exactly this time last year -- and the technology is finally up, running, and most importantly, legal.

With cremation taking a beating from green groups for poisoning the environment by producing about 150 kilograms of carbon dioxide per body and around 200 micrograms of mercury (from tooth fillings, primarily) alkaline hydrolysis, or "aquamation," is the latest, greatest, most environmentally-friendly way to say goodbye to grandma.

Just have the funeral home load your loved one into a stainless steel container, into which potassium is added, followed by scalding-hot water. Four hours later, the corpse is dissolved like a Mafia rat in a 55-gallon drum at the bottom of the East River.

Anderson-McQueen's unit was built by Resomation Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland, and was "developed in response to the public's increasing environmental concerns" the company's founder, Sandy Sullivan, tells the BBC.

Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association says of the process, "There will be consumer demand."

However, Thomas Lynch, funeral director at Milford, Michigan’s Lynch & Sons, and the author of a book of poems and short stories called Apparition and Late Fictions, doesn’t predict a spike in requests for bio-cremation anytime soon.

“There are significant expenses involved,” Lynch told me in a telephone interview. “There’s a big difference between a traditional $250 cremation and a $1000 ‘green’ cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis will separate the environmentally conscious from the environmentally passionate.”

It costs more because, as Mark Stehn, executive director of the Oregon Funeral Directors Association said, "You're looking at a machine that costs a quarter- to a half-million dollars," so funeral homes will have to factor that in to recoup their initial investment.

But, what effect will alkaline hydrolysis have on the traditional burial business, which has been hurt by prices significantly higher than those of cremations?

The weak economy even has people off-loading their plots, some of which have been in families for generations, for about a quarter of what they’re worth due to the current glut of cemetery space flooding the market. One woman, who had recently been evicted from her home and had her car repossessed but still had the deed to her burial plot, got $500 for what would normally fetch $6,800. The money allowed her to move into a hotel for a month while she looked for work.

That's when the cemetery industry discovered that while people do, without exception, eventually die, many are choosing to put food on the table now and worry about the afterlife later.

“If a customer has something that's worth $3,000, that could pay for utility bills and living expenses,” Caskets-N-More owner Olga Fernandez told the Wall Street Journal. “They're not thinking of the future. They have something they’re able to sell and get money for now.”

Cemeteries started scrambling to increase “occupancy rates”, resulting in scenes like this:

And this, which should please value-conscious Sam’s Club shoppers quite a bit:

Should you be one of the lucky Americans for whom traditional burial is still an option, perhaps you’d prefer to take a more practical route to the grave. asks: Why buy a casket for just one day?

Good question. Here's their answer:

For just $3,995, the contemporary “Salvador” casket-sofa “combines metal and wood to create [a] timeless masterpiece,” the company’s website describes. “This sofa will always provide you with the ultimate place of rest, whether it’s taking a load off, or doing the final send off.”

When it’s time for that “final send off,” every CasketFurniture product “can be transformed into a high-quality casket in your time of need.”

Thing is, these days, for a lot of people, their “time of need” is starting while they’re still very much alive.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.