The Rise of Water Cremations

Posted: 10/01/2018

It was reported at the end of last year about the creation of the UK’s first ‘water cremation ‘ service. In parts of the US and Canada, water cremation is already an alternative for those who would prefer an option other than burial or cremation. Currently, over 75% of people in the UK opt for cremation, but this may change with the introduction of water cremations. However, the implementation of such a service in the UK has been subject to controversy and is currently on halt after being granted permission.

What exactly is water cremation and what does it involve you may ask? Well, we tell you everything you need to know regarding this alternative to other funeral plans.

What is water cremation?

metal-chamber-water-cremation

The metal chamber created by the company Resomation that enables the process of water cremation. Source: Metro

The process of a water cremation, otherwise known as the process of alkaline hydrolysis involves the dead body being placed in a metal chamber. In a process that takes up to four hours, the body is reduced quickly to liquid and ash. It uses water at a temperature of up to 350F (180C), but at an elevated pressure,  and potassium hydroxide in order to carry out this type of cremation, reducing the body to bone ash and fragments.  Water cremations also go by the following names, including:

  • Green cremation
  • Bio-cremation
  • Aquamation
  • Flameless cremation
  • Resomation
  • Liquid cremation

Why choose water cremations?

how-water-cremation-works

The above breaks down the different parts of the process when it comes to water cremations, a more eco-friendly option to burial and flame cremation. Source: Caleb Wilde

Water cremations are regarded as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to normal, flame-based cremation, as the process produces much less carbon dioxide and pollutants than the normal cremation process, and so for people who are concerned about reducing their carbon footprint may be interested in this option.

In the traditional cremation process, more than 1,800 degrees of heat is used in order to cremate one body, which can equate to an estimated 600lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Others have estimated that flame-based cremation for one body can generate up to a week’s worth of heating in winter!  In comparison, water cremations use on average around just 1/7 of the energy required for flame-based cremations.  The process of water cremations also allows for the separation of dental and body implants that can be disposed of in a more eco-friendly manner. This is particularly pertinent given that it is thought that mercury emitted from crematoriums in the UK accounts for over 16% of UK mercury emissions. The problem with these emissions is that they can release harmful toxins into the atmosphere. The mercury ends up in the aquatic food chain as it returns to the earth through rain droplets.

Scientists have stated that is essentially a sped-up version of the natural decomposition process that occurs once a body is buried, with this taking up to 25 years otherwise.

Choosing water cremations may become increasingly popular as the world’s population continues to exponentially grow. it is thought that by the end of the century there will be more than 11 billion people living on earth. Currently, there is around 7.5 billion. The problem is, is that spaces to bury the dead is becoming increasingly difficult. For example in the UK space for graves is becoming such an issue of concern, that it has been reported that more than half of cemeteries in the country will be completely full in the next couple of decades.

Whilst in certain areas of the country, full graveyards is already a problem here and now. In some areas of London, it is no longer possible to organise a burial service, such is the difficulty in finding space. This has led to certain councils having to start to consider re-using grave space. This means burying further down into the soil existing bodies to then place new ones above.

The controversy over water cremations

As previously stated, the process of water cremations has not gone without controversy. In many areas of the world, water cremations remain illegal or have been blocked by various religious groups. It has currently received approval in 14 US state, with the potential of five more allowing the process but is currently filing legislation. Whilst in Canada, water cremations is allowed in three Canadian provinces. This equates to around two-thirds of the population (source: BBC news).

Sandwell Council in the West Midland initially received approval last year to create the UK’s very first water cremation service, in the hope of giving people in the area greater choice when it comes to what happens to their body when they die, as well as given them a more eco-friendly option in an industry that is rapidly evolving in many ways. However, this has now been put on halt.

The organisation Water UK,  who works with the largest water and wastewater service providers on industry standards across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Severn Trent Water have voiced their concerns over the implementation of a water cremation service. Severn Trent Water has refused the council a ‘trade effluent’ permit  (this is a permit for what is allowed to go into the UK’s sewers) for the cremation company Resomation, who wants to create the service, as a result.

Why? Both Water UK and Severn Trent Water are worried that about the liquefied remains of the deceased entering the water system. Water UK has stated that want the technology to be further investigated in much greater detail before giving its approval to water cremations. However, Resomation has stated that any liquid returned from the cremation is returned safely to the water system. They highlighted that the liquid is completely sterile and there is no DNA in it.

Currently, it seems that the implementation of water cremation buildings across the UK is some way off from happening. Whilst water cremation does seem to be more environmentally friendly, there is still a fair amount of ambiguity as to what happens after the process of water cremation has occurred.

Find out about our cremation plans here.