But I Wanted to Swim With the Fishes!
When I read about “aquamation,” a supposedly green alternative to cremation, I imagined my post-mortal-coil remains cavorting with dolphins and parrot fish, perhaps fertilizing a revitalized coral reef. The truth is a bit starker.
According to its sole purveyor, Australia-based Aquamation Industries, aquamation relies on alkaline hydrolysis. It's how a human or animal returns to nature when it's buried without a coffin in the soil. The company simply “accelerates the processes that occur in nature.”
To give nature a helping hand, Aquamation adds caustic potassium hydroxide and water. That has led some observers to liken the process to oven cleaning as well as Hannibal Lecter. Once the body is placed inside its stainless-steel vat, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, “the water is heated to 93 degrees [200 degrees Fahrenheit] and swirled around for four hours. This breaks the body down to its constituent chemicals, leaving only 'chalky white' bones and bone fragments.” The remains are then pulverized and given to relatives, just like a cremation, while “the water is a fantastic fertilizer, and can be spread on the flowers to help them grow,” according to Aquamation.
Okay, so no dolphins. But the process does have a smaller environmental impact than cremation, a high-temperature affair that produces 110 pounds of carbon dioxide per corpse, and up to 350 pounds when you include the remains of the coffin.