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What is aquamation? Ecological burial method sparks debate

What is aquamation? Ecological burial method sparks debate

Image source: © canva
Marta Grzeszczuk,
26.02.2024 15:30

Aquamation is considered to be a more eco-friendly burial alternative when compared to traditional coffin burial or cremation. However, it is currently illegal in Poland. The question is, why?

An increasing number of people are exploring ways to leave this world in an environmentally friendly manner. However, in densely populated areas, there is limited space for new burial sites or the expansion of existing ones. Despite this, traditional burial or cremation by fire are the only options available in most European countries. In 2023, the UK’s largest burial company made it available for customers.

Water cremation to be more eco-friendly

Water cremation, also known as aquamation, alkaline hydrolysis, resomation or bio cremation, involves the accelerated decomposition of the body in water. As described by Euronews, the body is placed in a steel cylinder filled with water and an alkaline solution. The vessel is then heated, which breaks down the body into chemical components: amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts. After about three hours, only the bones remain. These are then ground into a white powder, placed in an urn and passed on to the family.

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A single traditional cremation is estimated to produce approximately 245 kg of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to charging a smartphone over 29,000 times. If someone charges their phone once daily, one cremation releases as much greenhouse gas as over 80 years of smartphone use. On the other hand, water cremation generates only 10% of these emissions.

Water can be safely disposed

Until recently, there were concerns about whether the water produced after aquamation was safe for the environment and could be discharged into municipal wastewater treatment systems. In 2019, researchers at Middlesex University conducted tests on water samples to evaluate its environmental impact. The tests showed that the residue produced by aquamation did not affect the water quality of the wastewater, and no DNA was found in the samples.

Despite this, some people still have moral concerns about the use of aquamation as a way of disposing of human remains. However, it should be noted that this method of returning human remains to the environment is not significantly different from releasing them into the atmosphere during cremation or into the soil after burial in a coffin.

Traditional cremation vs. aquamation
Traditional cremation vs. aquamation (OutlawWitch , X)

Aquamation was actually invented in the 19th century by an American farmer named Amos Herbert Hanson. Initially, it was used as a method of producing fertiliser from the bodies of dead animals. However, it wasn't until 1993 that medical schools began to utilise it. Nowadays, it has become a popular method of burial and has been used in funeral homes since 2011.

Interestingly, Bishop Desmond Tutu - a hero of South Africa's struggle against apartheid - chose this method of burial as a way to leave a more ecological footprint on the world. When he died in 2021, his body was aquamated, fulfilling his final wishes.

Water cremation is growing in popularity

Aquamation is available in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, the US, Canada, and South Africa. Belgium is also interested in introducing water cremation but still needs to overcome some regulatory problems. On the other hand, water cremation is illegal in Poland. The country has a Cemeteries and Burial of the Dead Act of 1959, which specifies that the body of a deceased person can only be buried in a coffin or cremated.

According to the European Federation of Funeral Services, traditional cremation has been the choice of one in every four Polish men and women in 2018, and its share of the funeral services market is increasing steadily. In 2022, around 50% of the deceased were cremated in Kraków. Therefore, it is plausible that water cremation, which is less harmful to the environment, could also become popular in Poland.


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