It uses one-tenth the energy, with 90 percent less

carbon footprint than flame cremation.

In modern America, 20 million feet of wood and four million gallons of embalming fluids go into the earth each year, with the latter threatening to leach carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde, phenol, methanol, and glycerin into groundwater. Though it’s more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, a single flame cremation releases as much carbon dioxide as a 1,000-mile road trip, and can also emit pollutants like fine soot, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, and mercury.

The scientific name of the process is alkaline hydrolysis, though it’s more commonly known as aquamation or aqua cremation. If you want to avoid the mildly gory details later in this piece, here’s the short version: Like flame cremation, aqua cremation reduces the body to bones—it just uses water instead of fire. It’s legal in more than a dozen states, but Oregon was one of the first to legalize it in 2009, and it’s one of the only states with the proper facilities to actually perform the procedure.

Alkaline hydrolysis was patented in 1888 as a way to turn animals into fertilizer, but in the 1990s, labs in the UK adopted the technique to safely dispose of infected carcasses during the mad cow epidemic. Around the turn of the century, aqua cremation became a popular method of body disposal for pet owners.

The basic purpose of alkaline hydrolysis is to accelerate the body’s natural decomposition process while simultaneously neutralizing any potential pathogens. Here’s how it works: The body goes inside a tubular, stainless steel machine that doesn’t eat cotton or polyester, so we go in the way we came into the world: naked as the day is long.Sometimes a hospital gown can be used for modesty, but also have a silk wrap can be used since the machine will digest silk, wool, and leather, as long as it’s organic material.

Okay, time for the mildly gory details: Once the body is inside the chamber, it’s filled with 95 percent water and five percent potassium hydroxide (what the pioneers called “potash”). Then the mixture is heated at high pressure to avoid boiling, and in about four hours, this biochemical reaction dissolves hair, flesh, muscle, marrow, and blood. All that’s left are metal implants; dental fillings; “bone shadows” (pure calcium phosphate “ashes”—also called “cremains”—that are soft enough to crush by hand); and effluent, the tea-colored liquid byproduct of the body’s breakdown into its most basic components of sugar, salt, peptides, and amino acids. There’s no RNA nor there’s no DNA left in the effluent or remains. You couldn’t take a sample and tell that this was grandma.”

In about four hours, the biochemical reaction dissolves hair, flesh, muscle, marrow, and blood.

Although they crumble to the touch, the bones must still run through a processor called the Cremulator for uniform consistency.  The ground cremains from aqua cremation are white and fine, like powdered sugar, while the cremains from flame cremation are more like cornmeal.

One major advantage of aqua cremation is that metal implants can be recycled, including pacemakers, which contain lithium-ion batteries that will explode in a flame crematory. Also, because gold melts at such a low temperature, it’s next to impossible to return gold dental fillings to families after a flame cremation. A family chose aqua cremation just because they were insistent on having the gold teeth.

There’s a common misconception that aqua cremation involves melting bodies with acid, but the alkali catalyst in potassium hydroxide is actually a strong base (the opposite of an acid). And though potassium hydroxide is a chemical, it’s also an FDA-approved food ingredient that’s used to make beer, soap, and other beauty products.


Potassium hydroxide.


Because it’s completely sterile, the effluent is legally allowed to go down the drain, but some providers have installed a large holding tank to collect the nutrient-rich liquid, which he sees as an added benefit to aqua cremation: If it’s not claimed by families, he gives the effluent to local farmers to use as fertilizer.


Cremation leaves behind an average of 2.4 kg of remains, known as "ashes" or "cremains". This is not actual ash but unburnt fragments of bone mineral, which are commonly ground down into powder. They do not constitute a health risk and may be buried, interred in a memorial site, retained by relatives or scattered in various ways.

There are many methods of scattering ashes that are becoming increasingly popular such as:

 Water or sea scattering, airplane scattering, standard scattering in one or multiple favorite places of the deceased. With that said, there are a myriad of alternative ash scattering services that fit every need and want. This ranges from shotgun shells filled with cremation ashes to hot air balloons. Below are some of the various services we've identified in the 'alt ash scattering service space