Since the beginning of time, people have died. And, until science figures out a way to keep us all alive indefinitely, people will continue to die. Bodies, even the healthiest, wear out. And when those bodies wear out, you have to have a plan. Some people choose to be buried and others choose to be cremated. But it seems you now have a third option and it’s an environmentally friendly option. (I was unaware, until I wrote this story, that funeral homes here in the U.S. also use this process. You can check out a video at the bottom of the page for more info.)

In a small town outside of Ottawa, a funeral company- the first of its kind in Ontario- uses an alkaline solution to dissolve human remains. From there it’s quite simple: the dead are dissolved and then simply drained into the sewer system. While it might sound disgusting and totally irreverent, according to Aquagreen Dispositions it’s a great alternative to the “energy-using flame-based cremation process.”1

The owner, Dale Hilton, who is from a family of funeral home operators, says,

“It brings your body back to its natural state. 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.”2

The traditional cremation process takes three to four hours to complete and releases about 250 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But at Aquagreen Disposition, potash, salt, and water break down the body in a heated, pressurized vessel that resembles an MRI machine- and it takes less than two hours to do it. Once most of the body’s “organic material” is dissolved in the alkaline solution, “the dark-colored, caustic fluid goes through two filter systems”3 on the premises and then it’s sent into the sewage treatment system.

In order to dissolve an average-sized human body, about 74 gallons of alkaline water solution is needed. The heated, pressurized vessel uses the electricity equivalent of a refrigerator.

All that’s left is the skeleton which is then “dried in a convection oven, pressed into a fine white powder and finally returned to the loved one’s family to be scattered.”4 If the person had any artificial hip joints, surgical plates, screws, heart stents or other pieces of surgical hardware, the process leaves them intact so they can be donated to hospitals in developing countries.

But is it really safe?

Ted Joynt, the superintendent of facilities at Smiths Falls water treatment says the process is totally safe. In fact, he says that the liquid mixes with all the other wastewater so it tends to be quite diluted before it even gets into their pipes.

But, he also acknowledges that processing large numbers of bodies could be challenging and that’s why they monitor so closely. To date, there have been no issues.

Hilton believes this is the wave of the future; good for families and good for the environment. He says “You come in by water, and you leave by water. It’s green, all the way around.”

What do you think?

Sources and References

  1. CBC News, June 20, 2016.
  2. CBC News, June 20, 2016.
  3. CBC News, June 20, 2016.
  4. CBC News, June 20, 2016.