2012-09-25

Co.Exist

In The Future, Your Dead Body Will Be Dissolved (Unless It's Frozen And Ground To Dust)

We’re going to run out of land for burials, and cremation contributes to climate change (just a little, but still). The future of body disposal is chemicals.

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.

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9 Comments

  • David Hooton

    I want to be fired from a canon over the horizon into the ocean from the deck of a battle ship..  Surely thats an environmentally friendly use of 2 out of date relics..?

  • Cemtrvlr

    How come we can run out of burial space; but we never run out of space to build golf courses and condos.

  • Dali Lama

    Two words: Sky Burial
    Wherein a human corpse is incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements (mahabhuta) and animals – especially predatory birds. 
    Used in Tibet

  • Nebulous

    Tree huggers wanted to eliminate paper shopping bags because it killed more trees. So they got everyone to switch to plastic. Other greenie weenies realized that plastic bags were not biodegradable and said we need to quit using them, so they have tried to get everyone to convert to textile bags. Eventually someone will realize the toll on the earth and universe of creating textile bags and will say we need to go to paper since trees are an easily renewable resource. By then, none of the stores will have had paper for a long time, everyone will have forgotten about paper bags and will think this is brilliant.

  • Tom Perfect

    Surely, the manufacture of such chemicals and the use of grinders will contribute to climate change too, if only marginally? What about a study comparing the benefits and disadvantages of the various methods?

    On a side note, Redditch Borough Council uses heat generated from a nearby crematorium to warm its swimming pool, whilst there are plans to reuse graves over a hundred years old.

  • Cartoph

    I say we clean up the bodies with red meat-eating ants and then grind up or box the bones. 
    It would be pretty clean, really low energy, and the system feeds itself!
    But well, it would probably take a while and a lot of ants colony for this process.

    I wonder if they did a survey of wether people would be willing to be dissolved or frozen?

  • guest

    Instead of burning bodies directly, we will burn coal for electricity to generate liquid nitrogen and run massive industrial meat grinders? The body must also be dressed in special clothing made of cornstarch and leather? Is there really an efficiency gain there?