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Environmentally sustainable body disposal - we begin to have better choices

This past week I listened to Sandy Sullivan, the founder of Resomation, speak for two hours about the process, and I was fascinated.

Resomation is a brand name offering international best practice in alkaline hydrolysis - aka 'water cremation'. Resomation has a patented aspect that ensures skulls are completely clean, and has liquid outcomes that are sterile and arguably suitable for use as a public space watering option. In addition medical implants and devices - joint replacements, pacemakers, screws etc - can be reused as they are inert and in this way precious metals and implants can have a second/multiple life. This saves time, money and energy. Resomation is currently available in the UK and the USA, but the company is hoping to expand to several other countries over the next few years.


There are other alkaline hydrolysis offerings on the market, but as they are lower temperature and not pressurised, Resomation has the best outcomes, and independent research undertaken by Sustain for the Dutch government demonstrates conclusively that the Resomation process uses very little water and is far less costly compared to burial and flame cremation on a life cycle analysis. Interestingly, Resomation mimics what happens to a body in the soil breaking down, but speeds it up and includes water and potassium hydrochloride. For more about Resomation visit their website.


The USA is leading innovation in another body disposal option, with Recompose - which I discussed in an earlier post. Spearheaded by Katrina Spade, Recompose is a composting solution designed to ease body disposal pressures in high-density urban areas. Several years in the planning and permission stages, Recompose is now open to the public; the process turns a human body into soil in a month using a microbial process, followed by a brief curing period. Remains are then available as soil for either a family's use, or for public greenspaces and regeneration. Recompose is not only fast and efficient, carbon is sequestered in this process.


A black and white picture of Katrina Spade of Recompose, a woman with short hair and a cheeky smile. She is standing in front of a tree with moss and ferns on it.
Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose

Neither of these processes require embalming, although the Resomation machines ask if the body is embalmed or not as embalmed bodies require slightly different levels of alkalinity to break up the chemical structures of the embalming products. As embalming is frequently marketed as 'essential' both of these processes help people to better understand how environmentally damaging embalming is for the people who work with the chemicals on a routine basis. In New Zealand for example, virtually all bodies are routinely embalmed, and in the USA there is a long history of selling embalming as 'hygienic' - which is simply not true.


Embalming is unnecessary in most cases, and better death literacy as promoted by sustainable best practice will help families and communities to make informed choices about the type of environmental impact they want to have in terms of body disposal.

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