Resomation may be the greenest way to dispose of bodies
Process of dissolving human remains has a lower carbon footprint than cremation.
Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 12:08 AM
Want to go green in death? Here's a process that may allow you to do just that. Resomation involves an alkaline hydrolysis process that dissolves a body into both a liquid and a powdery white mass. Experts call it the green alternative to cremation, which notoriously releases nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. The process is legal in several U.S. states, and one undertaker wants to bring it to Belgium. But as American Public Media Marketplace reports, resomation is being met with some trepidation in Europe.
The process, which emits none of the toxic carbon ash common with crematoriums, uses much less energy than other death preparation practices. It is a zero-emissions process. The body is placed in a bag and lowered into a Resomator. The Resomator is filled with water and potassium hydroxide, which is heated to around 160 degrees Celsius. The result is a greenish, DNA-free liquid and a powdery mass of white bone. In the United States, it is a common way to dispose of bodies donated to medical science.
Now Belgian undertaker Bruno Quirijnen wants to bring the process, which was developed by a Scottish firm, to Antwerp. Quirijnen hopes city official will approve the process. As he told American Public Media, "People don't like to have chimneys in their back yard. So with resomation, you don't have that problem. It's very natural and it's more eco-friendly."
But not everyone sees resomation as a viable solution for their post-mortem existence on Earth. Many everyday citizens are completely opposed to the idea of dissolving their body after death. When people were interviewed on the streets about the idea, their responses were vehement. One man retorted, “I don't like it. It's not so ... No. Not to be dissolved in a liquid or something like that, no. I don't see it as a good solution.” Others erroneously felt cremation was the better eco-solution.
But cremation and embalming are both notoriously toxic. More than 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid is interred in the earth annually and most of it is swimming in formaldehyde. Why is this bad? Formaldehyde is listed as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization. In the United States alone, the death industry buries 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 827,060 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of casket steel, and 30 million tons of hardwood board each year.
Ultimately, it may be the high cost of resomation that keeps it from catching on in Belgium. The Belgian government covers the cost of cremation and would likely be expected to pick up the tab for resomation — something critics are likely to resist. So for now, the U.S. will remain at the forefront of resomation.
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