What is Aquamation? A Sustainable Cremation Alternative Called Alkaline Hydrolysis

What is Aquamation? A Sustainable Cremation Alternative Called Alkaline Hydrolysis
5 minute read

For many years, most people in the midst of arranging a funeral have had only two choices: cremation or burial? But there is a new, third option available: Aquamation, otherwise known as alkaline hydrolysis. While technical sounding, this process is simply a water-based method of final disposition.

We’re thrilled to announce that we now offer aquamation services, providing families in Ontario with a sustainable alternative to traditional cremation or burial. Read on to learn more about our new offering, and how you can decide if it’s the right service for your loved one.

What is alkaline hydrolysis, aka aquamation?

Aquamation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, is a water-based, sustainable method of final disposition. Aquamation has no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury and requires no burning of fossil fuels.

This form of final disposition combines a gentle water flow, even temperature, and alkalinity used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials. Aquamation is the same process that occurs in nature when a loved one's body is laid to rest in the ground, although at an accelerated rate.

How long has alkaline hydrolysis been around

Global universities and the scientific industry have used alkaline hydrolysis technology for well over 25 years. While it is not commonly known, it has traditionally been used for the final disposition of human bodies donated to medical science. The first funeral home to use this technology for regular consumer use was in 2011.

Where is alkaline hydrolysis available?

Aquamation has been approved in three Canadian provinces, including Ontario. In the US, 14 states have approved legislation, with five more considering legalization.

How long does the alkaline hydrolysis process take?

The aquamation process takes anywhere between 6-8 hours or 18-20 hours. Timing ultimately depends on the operating temperature of the equipment that is being used. The process takes place at approximately 200-300°F or 150°C.

In contrast, a flame cremation typically takes 2-4 hours and at a temperature between 1600-1800°F.

What happens during the alkaline hydrolysis process?

To begin the process, the body is placed in a stainless steel vessel. Alkali, a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or an alkaline earth metal, is added to the vessel at a ratio of 95% water and 5% alkali. The amount added depends on individual characteristics, including weight, sex, and embalming status. From there, the vessel fills with water.

Once the vessel is filled, the alkali water solution is heated to 200-300°F and gently flows throughout the vessel for the length of the aquamation process.

Once the process is completed (6-8 or 18-20 hours, depending on temperature), all organic material within the vessel is broken down to the smallest building blocks. There will be no DNA or RNA remaining - our bodies consist of 65% water, to begin with. The sterile processed water is released for recycling, and the vessel performs a clean, freshwater rinse for the equipment and remains.

When the freshwater rinse is completed, the operator opens the door of the vessel. Inside, only the inorganic bone minerals will remain. These remains and minerals are reduced into ashes and returned to the family. This processing step is similar to the one that is followed by flame cremation.

What is the environmental impact of alkaline hydrolysis?

Aquamation has no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury, no burning of fossil fuels and uses less energy than flame-based cremation.

Believe it or not, the aquamation process uses less water than a single household uses in one single day. This includes the water used for the process of aquamation and the freshwater rinsing of the final remains and stainless steel vessel.

What happens to the water after the process is completed?

Following the process and the final clean water rinse, the water flows back to the ecosystem via your local wastewater treatment facility. This is the same process used by all funeral homes in North America and other parts of the world during the embalming process.

Aquamation produces a completely sterile and safe solution of amino acids, salts, nutrients, sugars, and soap in a water solution. These are the byproducts that come with natural decomposition.

Does the family receive an urn?

When you choose aquamation, you receive 20-30% more ashes than you would receive from a traditional fire cremation.

In many parts of the world, particularly in North America, we process the minerals into a fine powder for placement in an urn. This step is consistent through aquamation and flame cremation. Read more on the flame cremation steps in our blog.

You may need a larger urn. Sometimes a larger-sized urn will be required due to the increased volume of ashes compared to flame cremation. This is not a hard and fast rule but varies for each individual case.

Find the perfect urn for your loved one here at the Eirene store. We offer a wide selection of local and handmade urns perfect for memorializing your loved one.

Do I need a casket for alkaline hydrolysis?

No, you do not need a casket with our aquamation provider.

Do I need to embalm the body for the process?

As with many end-of-life options, embalming is not required. This is something that the family of the deceased can choose to do, but it is not required. If you decide to embalm, all embalming fluids will be broken down in the aquamation process.

Interested in learning more about embalming? Read more on the process here.

Are the remains from alkaline hydrolysis safe to handle?

The remains are entirely safe to handle, disease and pathogen-free.

What can I do with my loved one's ashes?

There are many different and creative things you can do with your loved one's ashes. The possibilities are endless and depending on your loved one's wishes, you can turn them into fireworks, a coral reef or even press them into a vinyl record!

Check out our blog on the most creative things you can do with ashes.

Anything that can be done with ashes from a traditional flame can be done with aquamation ashes. More traditionally, many people opt to bury the ashes and urn in a cemetery or inter the urn in a columbarium.

Some families choose to scatter a portion or all of the remains in a special, meaningful place. Make sure to check local and provincial regulations before scattering your loved one's ashes. Read more in our blog to learn about considerations you must make before scattering ashes.

I have metal implants. What will happen to them during this process?

Medical implants do not need to be removed and will not be destroyed through this process. They are left in the body, and once the process is completed, the metals are cleaned and sterilized. The leftover metals are recycled through the proper channels and made into new materials.

How do I know if aquamation is right for my loved one?

Ultimately, your choice of disposition is a personal one. At Eirene, we believe that families should be given the tools and education to make the best decision for their loved ones. We are simply here to support you. If you’d like to speak to a licensed funeral director about your options, give us a call at 647-424-3408.

An Alternative Choice for Your Loved Ones

Aquamation is a viable option for many Canadians looking to lay their loved ones to rest in a conscious way. It's truly an exciting advancement in end-of-life space. By offering this option for families, Eirene is proud to give Canadians more end-of-life options, including sustainable ways to be laid to rest. If you are interested in learning more visit our Aquamation | Eirene Help Center, or contact us today.