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Cremation Goes Green

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With land running out for burials, and 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.

Aquamation (also called "bio-cremation") uses only 10 per cent of the energy of a conventional cremation and releases no toxic emissions, says John Humphries, chief executive of Aquamation Industries in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

However, only four US states, Oregon, Minnesota, Florida and Maine, allow bio-cremation. But California may soon be added to the list, with State Assemblyman Jeff Miller from Corona, California, stepping up to the plate to do his part.

Miller has introduced a bill that would legalize alkaline hydrolysis, or “bio-cremation" -- an environmentally-friendly alternative to combustion cremation.

"It's green. It's clean. It's environmentally friendly and it reduces the carbon footprint," Miller said.

Bio-cremation uses a liquid chemical process and heat to dissolve a body in about three hours. It also releases eight times less CO2 into the atmosphere and uses more than three times less electricity than traditional cremation.

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 tells Minyanville. “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.

There are recycling possibilities, as well. Alkaline hydrolysis, unlike cremation, does not destroy artificial implants like hip replacements and pacemakers, which can then be reused. (I can just see it now--"Now, sir, this pacemaker usually goes for $2995, but I can get you one from a body we just dissolved in acid for half that!")

Will alkaline hydrolysis ever catch on in numbers significant enough to make a difference, environmentally?

"People say the widowed don't shop. That's a bunch of bull," says Bartlett Funeral Home director Al Tacker, who is also the owner of Al Tacker's Casket Store. "People are not buying the metal and upper-priced caskets, vaults and services."

If your green urges don't get the better of you and you do choose traditional cremation, I've got great news.

Art in Ashes, a service provided by, will arrange for an "international artist who will lovingly mix a portion of their family member’s ashes into the colors of a custom painted modern art piece picture or add it to one of the existing pieces shown in our catalog."

Gol' dang, Mom really adds a nice splash of color to any living room or foyer.

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