What in the World Is Water Cremation?

Have you heard of aquamation? It’s also known by the terms alkaline hydrolysis, bio cremation, or resomation, and it’s being touted by experts as a more green funeral option for those interested in limiting their ecological footprint. If you’re not in the funeral industry, this may sound completely foreign to you, as although the concept isn’t new, it’s really just catching on now in a bigger way. Below I’ll answer some questions about water cremation and remove some of the mystery around this growing alternative to traditional cremation.


Why Is It Called “Water Cremation?” 

There is no fire involved, so describing it as “cremation” can seem misleading. But like fire cremation, this is an alternative to burial. The main difference is that it relies on a liquid process rather than a fire-based technique. Thus the “water” association. That being said, like traditional cremation with fire, you’ll receive ashes (often a bit lighter in color) once your loved one has undergone aquamation.


Does Aquamation Use Acid?

No, the process doesn’t use acid at all. Again, aquamation is formally known as alkaline hydrolysis. If we go back to the basics, we remember that alkaline is on the other end of the pH scale at a level of 14. 


How Does Alkaline Hydrolysis Actually Work?

The idea behind aquamation is to hastily replicate the natural breakdown process that would take place in the ground. The body is placed in a stainless steel cylindrical vessel along with 95% water and 5% alkali. This mixture is set at a high pressure and heated to between 200-300 degrees. The water breaks down the molecules and what’s left is the inorganic materials- the calcium phosphate of the bones. This is then broken down and returned to the families in the form of a powder, similar to ashes.


Is Aquamation New?

No. The process was originally patented in 1888. It was initially created (and has continued to be widely used) for animals. In 2005, one of the first systems for humans was installed in the Mayo Clinic where it is still used today. 


Read More about Eco-Friendly Funerals


Alkaline Hydrolysis uses 95% water & 5% alkali.

Is Alkaline Hydrolysis Legal Everywhere?

Currently, alkaline hydrolysis is only legal in twenty-one states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. However, at the moment, additional rules are either being considered or pending in additional states. It’s more a matter of timing than controversy--state legislatures have different timelines for considering new processes, so look for more states to come online in the future.  It’s also worth mentioning again that it is legal in all fifty states for pets. 


What Items Are Permitted in the Aquamation Chamber?

Unlike cremation, there is no casket used in bio cremation. Since only 100% silk, wool or leather can be put in the chamber, you’ll want to consult with your funeral provider for guidance. Also unlike cremation, medical devices do not need to be removed. They can remain with your loved one and will be separated from the ashes at the end of the process.


Why Would I Choose Alkaline Hydrolysis?

This type of cremation is more environmentally kind! For those who want a green funeral, aquamation is an eco-friendly option, championed by green funeral providers as a better alternative to cremation or burial. In fact, aquamation has 1/10 the carbon footprint and uses 85% less energy than fire cremation. Moreover, with alkaline hydrolysis, there are far fewer air emissions and the emissions that exist are non-mercury based, making it an even safer choice. 


There’s also the idea itself--some people may prefer an alternative to burial that does not involve fire. Or maybe they just want to be on the cutting edge of technology--innovators to the end!


Read: One of NYC’s Top Green Funeral Providers Talks About Eco-Friendly Burial and Alkaline Hydrolysis


OK, so are Aquamation, Alkaline Hydrolysis, Water Cremation and Bio Cremation All the Same Thing?

Yes! These are just different terms to describe the same thing. Individual providers may have proprietary or “brand” names too. 


Is Aquamation Just a Fad?

While aquamation isn’t a common household term yet, don’t dismiss it. Fire cremation was itself originally questioned and unwelcomed. Today, however, more than half of all Americans choose it over burial. We certainly support alkaline hydrolysis as a solid option for those who envision a green funeral. 


How can I find out more?

Check the list above to see if your state currently permits water cremation. If so, contact a local funeral provider. They’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you make the choice that’s right for you.