Using potassium hydroxide and hot water to dissolve a body sounds like something Walter White would come up with. But fictional meth kingpins aside, this method is gaining traction as the first commercially available alternative to burial or cremation as a means for disposing of human remains.
It’s called "resomation," and it’s one of two new environmentally friendly ways to say goodbye to a loved one. The other is "cryomation," a process that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze a body until brittle (getting it down to around minus 384 degrees Fahrenheit), removes any metals, and then converts the remains into a powder. Resomation is already being implemented in a few states in the U.S., including and Minnesota, while a major funeral services company in the Netherlands is currently working to make cryomation available soon.
That company, Yarden, which runs 41 funeral centers and 22 crematoria in the Netherlands, commissioned a peer-reviewed report last year (PDF) by the independent research organization to compare the environmental impact of all corpse disposal methods. TNO found that burial was by far the most environmentally damaging, as it takes up land space, causes the release of the greenhouse gas methane, and potentially leaks embalming chemicals into the soil and air. Cremation was the second most environmentally harmful method, since it causes the release of carbon dioxide emissions—the practice accounts for about .02% of the world’s CO2 emissions, at 6.8 million metric tons per year. Cryomation and resomation had the least environmental impact, eliminating the problematic aspects of burial and significantly reducing the amount of energy used and the resulting CO2 emissions of cremation.
The Scottish company Resomation Ltd is behind the service currently available in the U.S., which it is marketing as a new kind of cremation—since the dissolving process takes place in a chamber and then the remaining bone is ground into ash and returned to the family of the deceased. The technology it uses has not yet been approved or regulated in the U.K. Cryomation Ltd, also a U.K. company, is behind the freezing technique.
Once you’re dead, whether you’re frozen or dissolved might not matter too much to you, but if you’re looking to limit your impact even at the end of life, you might consider doing something less traditional with your body.