The Green Burial Guidebook: Cremation

Find out about the best environmentally-friendly methods of cremation, remains storage and unique ways to honor the departed.

Photo from Adobe Stock/Lukas H

Traditional cremation is certainly on the rise in all areas of the United States and Canada, yet it is not an environmentally friendly process, and it’s not considered a form of green burial. Traditional cremation creates fossil-fuel emissions, and the ashes themselves can contain toxins. However, a new green method of cremation is rising in popularity, and there are certainly a number of creative and eco-friendly ways to preserve one’s “cremains,” as they are called.

Alkaline Hydrolysis

The process called alkaline hydrolysis — also known as water resomation, bio-cremation, and flameless cremation — uses heat, lye, and water to dissolve or break down a human body into liquid and some remaining bone.

Dean Fisher, who heads UCLA’s Body Donation Program, says this process works with a light carbon footprint “because it catalyzes the hydrogen in water to more rapidly attack the chemical bonds between molecules in the body.”

Alkaline hydrolysis is generally done in a large stainless-steel cylinder, with a person’s former life vehicle amounting to a coffee-colored liquid that can be safely disposed of down a drain. The remaining bone fragments are ground into a powder and given to the family, much like a traditional cremation.

While costs vary, alkaline hydrolysis typically costs $150 to $500 more than traditional cremation. Otherwise, this is the clear green choice. For instance, the Sierra Club writes, “Lower temperatures help reduce carbon emissions; alkaline hydrolysis’s emissions are just 10 to 15 percent of cremation’s.” The table below compares the carbon emissions of traditional cremation to those of alkaline hydrolysis.

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