Bio cremation, also known as resomation, green cremation, or water cremation, is an alternative to casket burials and fire-based cremation. It was first used in the early 2000’s as a method of disposing of human and animal remains at medical schools. It was legalized in Minnesota in 2003 and is now legal in 18 states. Despite the fact that it’s the greenest of all end of life options, it’s getting resistance from traditional religious groups and from others that don’t understand the process.
This gentle process uses water mixed with potassium hydroxide (KOH) to create a non-toxic chemical reaction that produces heat to break down the body. KOH is a non-toxic chemical that is commonly used in soaps, green cleaning supplies, and for producing olives. The process takes place inside a stainless steel chamber containing 95% water and 5% KOH. The body is reduced to bone fragments similar to flame cremation remains, but requires a final process to separate the bone fragments from a liquid effluent.
One of the environmental hazards of traditional cremation is the release of mercury into the air. Bio cremation contains and recycles the mercury in a person’s teeth, instead of releasing it into the air. Bio cremation can even negate the environmental impact of embalming fluid when it’s been used to show the body at a funeral. The liquid effluent by product of bio cremation can safely be released into the water supply.
Bio cremation is still illegal in 32 states. This is partly due to the Catholic Church and other religious groups opposing the process. There is also a lack of understanding of the process, and prejudice against it based on its unceremonial use by medical schools. Bio cremation produces ashes that are similar to what’s produced by flame cremation. These ashes are separated from the liquid effluent, that’s brown, has a syrupy consistency, and smells strongly of ammonia. The effluent is usually disposed of through the sewage system. Despite the fact that blood and fluids are similarly disposed of during the embalming process, people are not aware of this and believe that bio-cremation involves “flushing their loved ones down the drain.” Once people become more familiar with the process, it’s likely that they'll come to accept it.