In the five years I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve spent what some readers might think is an inordinate amount of time covering various ways to dispose of dead bodies.
I don’t mean the “take the gun, leave the cannoli” type of dead bodies stereotypically associated with certain organizations that leave people wondering if there’s something buried in New Jersey’s Meadowlands besides the hopes and dreams of New York Jets fans.
No, I’m talking about your usual, ordinary citizen type of cadavers. In the past, I’ve told you about home funerals, one of the more distasteful DIY projects you’ll ever encounter. I’ve also let you know of ways to turn your dearly departed into diamonds, space dust or trees.
But now there’s something new that lets you turn your deceased loved ones into…
This new technique is euphemistically called “green cremation,” but the scientific term is alkaline hydrolysis. As you can clearly see from the formula at right, it uses water, an alkaline solution, heat, and pressure to “dissolve body tissue into a sterile liquid that is eventually sent into the sewer system.”
Although it sounds undignified, I suspect it’s a good thing that they flush the remains; I doubt you’d want the dissolved body tissue sitting on your mantel in an urn…or a goblet.
Ha, ha–only kidding. The process only dissolves the tissue, which becomes a “brown, syrupy residue” and leaves behind something called “bone shadows,” which is then crushed into powder and returned to loved ones. So you can still turn the deceased into a tree or a diamond if you wish. And probably never eat pancakes again.
Dale Hilton, the owner of Aquagreen Dispositions, the first funeral home in Ontario, Canada that offers this method, is quoted as saying, “It’s the same way as being buried in the ground, but instead of taking 15, 20 years to disintegrate, it does it in a quicker process. And it’s all environmentally friendly.”
Well, first, no, it is not the same as being buried in the ground. When you’re buried in the ground, your friends and family can watch you being lowered, say a prayer perhaps, sprinkle some dirt. They don’t have to worry about low-flow toilets.
Second, I hope Dale Hilton is not related to the hotel Hiltons because, if he is, I’ll be staying at Marriotts from now on. Or, at the very least, if I do stay at a Hilton, I won’t order soup from room service.
The reason alkaline hydrolysis is “green” is not because that’s the color you turn when you think about it. You see, when you’re buried, you not only take up land that could be better used for a Starbucks, you also release methane gas as you decompose. And fire cremations produce harmful carbon dioxide emissions.
So, basically, alkaline hydrolysis prevents you from emanating gas. If only you’d known about it last week in that Mexican restaurant.
Let me say that I, personally, believe traditional burials are a waste of space. I’ve told my family that I want to be cremated, and that I hope they’ll wait until after I die. Rationally, I’m not sure why I have such a knee-jerk negative reaction to being liquified as opposed to being baked.
But I do. It might have something to do with the fact that the description of the green cremation process causes an image to come to mind, and that image for some reason includes bubbles.
I’d also like to remind you of what happens to sewage. Typically, it is treated and turned into a wonderful-sounding substance called “sewage sludge.” Yes, I know I’ll be dead, but still…EWWW!
Currently, you’d have to travel to Ontario to dispose of your loved one in this way. This, rather than Donald Trump’s candidacy, may explain the upsurge in Google searches for moving to Canada. If you want to be hydrolysized in the U.S., you’d have to first move to either Minnesota or New Hampshire (the only two states where alkaline hydrolysis is legal), and then wait until a funeral home in one of those states gets the necessary equipment, which I’m guessing is more complicated than a few beakers and a Bunsen burner.*
I don’t know. I care about the environment. We recycle. We bring our own bags to the supermarket. We even drive a hybrid. So am I a bad person if I prefer to have my body create carbon dioxide emissions instead of becoming sewer sludge?
Maybe if my family turns the rest of me into a tree, my corpse will have a neutral carbon footprint and I’ll be able to rest in peace.
Unless a woodpecker comes along.
See you soon.