In recent years, the push towards environmentally conscious living has extended into final farewells, sparking a growing interest in eco-friendly funeral practices.

Among the alternatives gaining attention is water cremation, a modern method that presents a sustainable choice compared to traditional cremation methods.

This guide explores what is water cremation, understanding its meaning and significance in today’s funeral practices. We break down the process, benefits and considerations to provide an understanding for those considering this option for themselves or their loved ones.

What Is A Water Cremation?

Water cremation, also known as aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis, is a modern funeral process that mimics the natural breakdown of the body.

Utilising an alkaline hydrolysis machine, this method combines water with alkaline chemicals under heat, and sometimes agitation or pressure, to accelerate decomposition. The result is the dissolution of body tissues, leaving behind the bones, which are then processed into fine, white ash.

Resomation, Aquamation and Bio-Cremation are some of the brand names associated with this eco-friendly alternative, highlighting its gentle approach to environmental sustainability in funeral arrangements.

While water cremation for pets is gaining popularity in Singapore, with the first pet aquamation service launched in 2023, this method is currently not available for human remains in the country.

The information provided is based on practices overseas, where several countries and US states have legalised aquamation for human remains.

 

How Does Alkaline Hydrolysis Work?

Alkaline hydrolysis involves a gentle process that breaks down human remains using an alkaline solution. In this cremation by water method, an alkaline hydrolysis machine facilitates natural decomposition by combining water and alkaline chemicals under controlled heat conditions and occasionally agitation or pressure.

Preparation And Placement

The preparation and placement process for water cremation, involving alkaline hydrolysis, is carried out with respect and attention to detail, ensuring that the human remains are treated with dignity throughout the procedure.

Here’s an outline of what typically occurs:

  • The body is gently washed and prepared, ensuring it’s completely sterile.
  • A thorough identification process is conducted to ensure the integrity and respect of the remains throughout. Once identified, medical devices and prosthetics are removed to prevent interference with the alkaline hydrolysis process.
  • The body is then placed in a specially designed stainless steel vessel. This container is part of the alkaline hydrolysis machine, designed to safely hold the human body and the alkaline solution.
  • The stainless steel vessel is then filled with water and alkaline chemicals, creating a completely sterile environment that gently breaks down the body’s tissues.

Chemical Solution Process

The chemical solution used in alkaline hydrolysis primarily consists of 95% water and 5% potassium or sodium hydroxide.

This composition is important for initiating the accelerated decomposition of a body. Potassium hydroxide, a strong alkaline compound, plays a significant role in breaking down organic materials efficiently.

The potassium or sodium hydroxide breaks down the chemical bonds that hold the body’s proteins and fats together.

As a result, the body is gently and rapidly decomposed into its basic chemical components. Unlike traditional flame cremation, which relies on intense heat, this process uses a chemical solution to achieve a similar outcome in a more eco-friendly manner.

Final Processing Of Cremation

After the body has undergone the alkaline hydrolysis process, specific steps are taken to handle the remains. This stage is important for preparing the remains to be returned to the family respectfully and meaningfully.

The process begins by separating the liquid by-product from the solid remains, primarily bones. These bones are then thoroughly dried and placed into a machine known as a cremulator, which grinds them down into a fine, white powder called calcium phosphate.

The final powder is then carefully placed in an urn or container chosen by the family. This allows the family to keep, bury, or scatter the remains in a manner that is meaningful to them while still honouring their loved one’s memory.

 

Water Cremation Vs. Traditional Flame Cremation

When comparing water cremation and traditional flame cremation, we observe significant differences in their approach to honouring the deceased. Each method has implications for funeral practices, with decisions often reflecting the family’s values regarding environmental stewardship and energy consumption.

Process And Duration

Both water cremation and flame cremation reduce the body to a state that can be more easily managed and memorialised by the family. So, it’s valuable to understand the distinct processes and timeframes of water cremation compared to flame cremation.

Water cremation involves a gentle chemical process. This method utilises a solution of 95% water and 5% alkali. The body is placed within a specialised vessel containing this mixture, which is then heated to expedite the natural decomposition.

On the other hand, flame cremation employs a vastly different approach, using intense heat. In this process, the body is subjected to high temperatures that cause the body to undergo combustion, evaporation and oxidation, reducing it to basic elements and dry bone fragments.

Unlike water cremation, flame cremation directly applies fire to decompose the body, resulting in a quicker breakdown of ash without using chemicals or water.

Also, the duration of each cremation process varies significantly. Depending on the equipment and settings, water cremation takes 6 to 16 hours. Flame cremation, in contrast, is generally quicker, with the process taking about 1 to 3 hours from start to finish.

Energy Consumption

Water cremation is much more energy-efficient, using approximately one-seventh of the energy required for flame cremation. Water cremation consumes approximately 90% less energy than flame cremation, significantly reducing its carbon footprint.

The operation of alkaline hydrolysis equipment relies on electricity, avoiding the direct emission of fossil fuels characteristic of traditional cremation methods.

Flame cremation typically requires the heat of around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, while only about 300 degrees are necessary for water cremation​​.

Traditional flame cremation also involves incinerating the body at high temperatures, a process that can last two to three hours. This method releases around 573 pounds of carbon dioxide for a single cremation, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Water cremation does not directly emit fossil fuel exhaust and captures the carbon from the body in the solution, which is then safely reintroduced into the natural water system, making it a more sustainable option.

On the other hand, flame cremation releases not just carbon dioxide but also mercury and other pollutants due to the burning of both body and fossil fuels. This traditional method is more energy-intensive and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions And By-products

Water cremation results in significantly fewer emissions compared to flame cremation. Water cremation does not release airborne toxins, and materials like mercury, plastic and metal objects (e.g. breast implants and artificial hips) are not destroyed but separated from the remaining bones​​.

Water cremation uses about 90% less energy than traditional flame cremation, contributing far less to carbon dioxide emissions.

The liquid by-product of water cremation is a sterile solution containing amino acids, sugars, peptides and captured carbon, which can be reintroduced into natural water systems without harm​​.

Meanwhile, the traditional method of flame cremation involves burning fossil fuels, usually natural gas or propane, which releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

This process can emit over 500 pounds of carbon dioxide per cremation, equivalent to driving over 600 miles in a standard passenger vehicle.

Flame cremation can also release mercury (from dental amalgams), particulate matter and other products of incomplete combustion (PICs) into the atmosphere.

Modern crematoria may employ emissions control measures like flue gas treatment and mercury abatement equipment to reduce these emissions, but they cannot eliminate them.

The presence of two combustion chambers and other modern process controls can reduce odours, fine dust and PICs, but older equipment and lack of monitoring can lead to unintentional pollutant releases​​.

End Product Of Water Cremation And Flame Cremation

The traditional process involves exposing the body to extreme heat, which reduces it to bone fragments and ash. These remains have a coarser texture, similar to coarse sand and are typically grey in colour, although they can vary from light to dark shades.

Metal implants must be removed before the flame cremation process due to the risk of explosion or pollution.

This method uses a solution of water and alkali to accelerate decomposition, producing a result similar to what would occur naturally over a longer period if the body were buried. The process takes 6 to 16 hours, resulting in bone fragments and a sterile liquid.

The bone fragments are pure white and processed into a finer, powdery substance than flame cremation ashes. Also, water cremation produces about 20% to 30% more ashes than flame cremation, which might necessitate a larger urn for the remains​.

Unlike flame cremation, water cremation does not destroy materials such as metal or plastic, allowing for the recovery of items like breast implants and artificial joints after the process. This aspect makes water cremation more appealing for those concerned about preserving certain materials or avoiding destruction​.

 

Conclusion On How Does Water Cremation Work

Water cremation presents an innovative alternative to traditional flame cremation, offering significant environmental benefits, reduced energy consumption and a gentler process for the deceased. This method provides families with a sustainable choice for their loved one’s farewell.

For those in Singapore seeking a respectful, dignified and eco-friendly way to say goodbye to their loved ones, Casket Fairprice stands as a trusted funeral services brand.

With fully equipped funeral parlours, experienced funeral directors and a broad range of casket services, we are dedicated to providing personalised service that respects local funeral rites, traditions and customs.

Our commitment to transparency, affordability and modern service methods makes us the ideal choice for anyone looking for a one-stop funeral services company.

Contact us for preplanning, and we offer free, non-obligatory quotations and consultations to ensure your needs are met with compassion and professionalism.

 

Frequently Asked Questions On How Does Water Cremation Work

Can Water Cremation Be Considered A Form Of Human Composting?

While water cremation and human composting are eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial methods, water cremation uses an alkaline solution to accelerate decomposition. In contrast, human composting involves the body’s natural breakdown into the soil.

Is Water Cremation Suitable For Processing Animal Carcasses As Well?

Yes, water cremation can process animal carcasses, offering a gentle and environmentally responsible method for pet cremation and disposal of laboratory or farm animals.

Does Water Cremation Eliminate The Need For Embalming Chemicals?

Yes, water cremation eliminates the need for embalming chemicals, as the body is directly placed in an alkaline solution, reducing the environmental impact associated with these chemicals.

What Are Bio-Response Solutions, And How Do They Relate To Cremation By Water?

Bio-response solutions refer to the technology and processes involved in water cremation, focusing on using biodegradable chemicals to break down the body in a safe way for the environment.