In a groundbreaking move, Co-op Funeralcare is set to introduce aquamations, also known as alkaline hydrolysis or water cremations, in Britain later this year. This innovative process, which rapidly decomposes a body using water and alkaline chemicals, is touted as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burials and cremations that consume significant fuel and emit greenhouse gases.

Aquamations involve a meticulous process that ensures the body decomposes naturally while minimizing environmental impact. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how it works:

1. The body is placed into a stainless steel vessel.
2. An alkaline solution is tailored to individual characteristics such as weight, sex, and embalming status, then the vessel is filled with water.
3. This solution, comprising 95% water and 5% alkali, is heated to between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit and gently circulated.
4. During the process, all organic material breaks down into its smallest building blocks, leaving no DNA or RNA.
5. The resulting sterile process water is released for recycling, and the vessel is rinsed with fresh water.

Once complete, only the inorganic bone minerals remain. These are ground into powder and returned to the family in an urn, mirroring the final step in traditional flame cremation.

Water cremations are heralded as significantly better for the environment. According to The Atlantic, aquamation has only about one-tenth the environmental impact of flame cremation, which requires substantial fuel and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air. Traditional burials also pose environmental concerns, often involving metal or plastic caskets that take years to decompose and can contaminate the soil.

The cost of aquamation is expected to be comparable to traditional cremation. Funeral Guide suggests that an eco-friendly cremation will likely be priced similarly to a flame cremation, with costs varying across crematoria in the UK. This new method’s affordability is poised to make it an attractive option for environmentally conscious individuals.

Interest in water cremations in Britain surged after Archbishop Desmond Tutu chose this eco-friendly process for his remains following his death on Boxing Day in 2021. The Dean of St George’s Cathedral described Archbishop Tutu as an “eco-warrior” who aspired to this method, further spotlighting its potential benefits.

Co-op Funeralcare, Britain’s largest funeral provider, arranging over 93,000 funerals annually, plans to collaborate with sustainability experts to validate existing research during its initial regional pilot later this year. This marks the first introduction of an alternative to burial or cremation since the Cremation Act of 1902, reflecting a significant shift towards more sustainable end-of-life options.

A recent poll by Co-op Funeralcare revealed that 89% of adults were unfamiliar with resomation, but once explained, one-third expressed a preference for it as their funeral choice. Professor Douglas Davies, a death rites expert at Durham University, noted that the reduced carbon footprint of resomation would appeal to many.

The introduction of aquamation to Britain symbolizes a growing awareness and concern for environmental impact. As more people become informed about this eco-friendly alternative, it is likely to gain popularity and acceptance as a preferred method for honoring the deceased.

In a time where environmental sustainability is paramount, the shift towards aquamations marks a commendable step in aligning end-of-life practices with eco-friendly values. Co-op Funeralcare’s initiative paves the way for a greener future, honoring lives in a manner that respects both tradition and the environment.