Handling funeral affairs after the death of a loved one is an emotional, yet necessary task. There are many things to consider, mainly what to do with your loved one’s body? Traditional burial services are expensive, and cremation is not every family’s ideal way to say goodbye to their loved one.
Aquamation may be a third option for families to say goodbye to their deceased loved one’s in a gentler, more eco-friendly way. Read on to learn more about the process of aquamation and whether it may be right for your family.
Aquamation is a process used to dispose of organic bodily material of humans and pets or animals. Also known as alkaline hydrolysis, aquamation uses water, temperature, and an alkaline solution to decompose organic material. It’s a similar process to nature’s process of decomposition when bodies are laid to rest in the soil.
The aquamation process works like this: The deceased’s body is placed in a pressurized metal cylindrical vessel. Water and alkali components, such as potassium hydroxide, are added to the vessel. The vessel is then heated to temperatures of 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit (or 150 degrees Celsius) and circulated through the vessel. This gentle process of water flow and heat gradually breaks down organic matter.
At the end of the process, all that remains are the inorganic bone minerals that are then dried and turned into dust. The remains are then given to the family to do with what they please.
How does aquamation work exactly? While many people might think it’s the water that is responsible for the breakdown of tissue during aquamation, that’s not entirely true. During alkaline hydrolysis, alkaline elements are added to water to create a hydrolysis reaction. In doing so, the alkaline changes the way the water molecules behave. This causes them to break down into hydrogen and hydroxide ions. The continuous flow of water and heat also present in aquamation furthers this process along.
The human body is made up of 65% water as well as fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and protein. During aquamation, these elements are reduced to smaller components: fat is reduced to salts, carbohydrates are reduced to sugars, and protein is reduced to amino acids and peptides.
Aquamation breaks down all organic tissues including DNA and RNA. This organic matter is then dissolved into the water which at the end of the process contains 96% water and 4% sugars, amino acids, and salt. The only remains are that of inorganic bone mineral.
The process of aquamation dates back to the 1800’s when it was patented as a way to make fertilizer. The original method of aquamation involved dissolving animal parts in an alkaline solution. Then in the 1990’s when it was used to dispose of animal carcasses used in lab experiments.
Later it was used in slaughterhouses to dispose of cattle infected with mad cow disease. In the 2000’s it was used by medical students for laying to rest donated bodies before it became a practice in the funeral industry.
Today, aquamation is a common funeral industry process for decomposing the bodies of pets. For humans, the process is only legal in some countries and states in the US. Aquamation has been said by some to be a gentler way to go because it is a more natural process. There may even be more benefits to choosing aquamation over burial or cremation such as cost and sustainability.
The idea of cremation may be scary for some people. Aquamation is a much gentler approach to decomposing a body. Instead of flame, it uses gentle, soothing water. Some people may find this a more comforting way of laying their deceased loved ones to rest.
Burial and the costs of funerals are incredibly expensive. Aquamation is significantly less expensive than a burial, which is one reason families may choose this process over burial. Though the cost of aquamation varies depending on where you are and who your aquamation provider is, it’s usually similar in price to cremation.
Some families may choose aquamation over cremation because it is friendlier for the environment. Cremation uses flames that emit greenhouse gasses. Aquamation does not use as much energy or emit gasses because it uses water instead. According to research, aquamation uses about five times less energy than cremation and can reduce a funeral home's energy use by up to 35%.
Another reason families may choose aquamation over cremation is because they will receive more of their loved one’s remains in the end. Aquamation is a gentler, smoother process compared to cremation. Water is gentler on the bone mineral remains. Direct contact with fire during cremation is harsher on bone mineral. Some of the minerals are lost through the air during the process of cremation, meaning less remains.
Some families may choose aquamation over burial or cremation simply because they can. It is nice to have options when it comes to something as important as laying to rest your loved ones. Having options is ideal for anyone, especially those with limited money or time. It may also be a third option for families who can’t decide on whether to bury or cremate their loved ones.
Cremation and burial use different processes to decompose the deceased’s body. In a traditional burial, the deceased is placed in a casket. After the funeral ceremony, the casket is then placed underground in a 6-foot hole in the cemetery. From there, nature takes its course. The human remains will decompose slowly over time and become part of the earth.
Cremation is quite different. In cremation, the deceased is placed in a special sealed cremation chamber. The body is then exposed to high heat and flames. The fire burns through the human remains until there is nothing left except for the bone minerals. These minerals are then crushed into a fine dust and given to the family.
Aquamation uses a solution of 95% water and 5% alkaline solution and heat to gently decompose the deceased’s body. The process involves circulating water and heat over the body until it is broken down into the smallest building blocks of the human body. No DNA or RNA remains at the end of the aquamation process.
Once the body is fully decomposed, the water is released for recycling and the aquamation chamber is rinsed and sterilized. The remaining bone minerals are grinded into a fine powder and given to the deceased’s family.
The result of aquamation is very similar to the end result of cremation. Both processes leave behind ash remains for the remaining family members. However, the ash remains of aquamation are finer and more substantial. The cremation process is harsher on the body and therefore leaves behind harsher bone mineral fragments. Cremation also does not produce as much ash as aquamation does.
The average funeral and burial service costs around $7,848 in most states while the average cost of a cremation and funeral ceremony is about $1,000 less. The cost of human aquamation varies greatly depending on the city, state, or country it is being performed in. In general, aquamation is comparable to cremation costs. Most aquamation processes cost anywhere between $2,000 to $3000 (not including funeral ceremony). While this number may sound high, it’s cheaper compared to traditional burial costs.
For a burial, families must purchase a casket along with a burial plot in a cemetery. Even with cremation, the deceased’s body must be placed in a temporary casket before being cremated, which the family must purchase.
With aquamation, the deceased’s body is placed directly into the water chamber, meaning no casket is necessary. For these reasons aquamation may ultimately be less expensive.
Aquamation is closely compared to cremation and known as an alternative to cremation. Both are effective ways to lay your loved one to rest but different benefits may outweigh one or the other. Below is a quick comparison of the two processes.
Aquamation is a new technology that hasn’t been approved yet in every state. Finding a funeral home or facility that does aquamation may be difficult. Cremation, however, has been a standard practice in the funeral industry for years. Nearly every funeral home offers cremation as a service for families. It may be less of a headache for grieving families to go with cremation because it is more standard everywhere.
The ashes the family members receive after aquamation look different than the ashes you would receive after cremation. Aquamation produces a fine, white, uniform powder compared to cremation ashes which are coarse and gray. The difference in ashes has to do with the difference in process. Cremation is a harsher process than aquamation. The bone minerals are put under much more heat and pressure during cremation, making the remnants coarser and grayer.
Cremation has been around for centuries in other parts of the world. In the US, cremation became available in the 1800s. There were only 20 crematoriums by the 1920’s and by 2019, there were over 3,000 crematoriums operating in the US. It’s estimated that over half of all deaths in the US are handled through cremation.
Aquamation is still new to the funeral industry. The first aquamation facility didn’t open until 2011 here in the states. Some people may feel comfortable embracing this new technology while others are more wary. Families should do whatever they feel more comfortable with.
Families receive more ashes from aquamation than they do with cremation. During cremation, many of the bone mineral fragments are vented out leaving less ash remains. Aquamation does not require venting. More ash remains at the end of the aquamation process, meaning you will need a larger urn to hold your loved one’s ashes.
You need at least 1 cubic inch of urn space per pound of your loved one’s body weight. For example, if your loved one was 200 pounds, your urn would need to be 200 cubic inches inside, or big enough to hold 13.9 cups. Families should consider the size of the urn they can purchase before choosing cremation or aquamation.
Unlike with flame cremation, clothing does not break down during the aquamation process unless it is protein-based (wool, silk, leather). If you prefer to have your loved one processed with something on them, you can have a silk or wool shroud covering your loved one’s body before they undergo the process. This is unlike flame cremation where families can choose to have their loved one dressed in clothing of their choice. Flame cremation will easily break down clothing of any material.
To some, aquamation may seem like a less dignified way of disposing of a body. The process essentially liquifies a body, which may sound unsettling to some. However, this is all a matter of perspective and personal beliefs. Cremation disintegrates a body through flame and nature decomposes a body through natural elements like soil, water, and insects. Either way, the deceased’s body will be reduced to the same components. The methods are just different.
The process of aquamation can take anywhere from 6-8 hours or 18-20 hours depending on how it’s done. Water cremation uses heat alongside alkaline hydrolysis to decompose the human remains. Depending on how high the water is heated determines how long the process will take.
When temperatures of 300 degrees fahrenheit are used, the process of aquamation takes 6-8 hours. However, at temperatures of 200 degrees fahrenheit, the process takes anywhere from 18-20 hours. For comparison, the cremation process takes only 1-3 hours but uses temperatures of 1600-1800 degrees fahrenheit.
Aquamation, or flameless cremation, can be used on pets as well as humans. Pet aquamation can cost anywhere from $100 and up depending on the size and weight of the pet. Any type of pet can have a water burial, but you should confirm with your pet aquamation provider. Some providers may only perform the pet aquamation process on certain types or sizes of animals.
Pet aquamation works much like the process of human aquamation. One difference being that with pet aquamation, you may have the choice of doing a partitionioned or communal aquamation process. What this means is that your pet will go through the aquamation process with other pets and their ashes will be mixed with one another. Partitioned and communal aquamations may be a less expensive option.
As with traditional cremation or burial, families have the option of holding a viewing or funeral service for the deceased before they undergo aquamation. The deceased’s body is handled the same way by the funeral home before the aquamation process begins. Families can choose to have their loved one embalmed and prepared for a viewing ceremony. After the ceremony, the funeral home will take care of the aquamation process and deliver the remains to the family when it’s finished.
Aquamation is considered an eco-friendly cremation alternative because the process produces less greenhouse gasses than flame cremation. Traditional cremation takes energy and fuel to dispose of the deceased’s body, which emits harmful gasses. Aquamation is a more sustainable cremation alternative because it produces no harmful gasses and uses less energy to decompose the body.
Aquamation also uses very little water to complete the process, which is recycled afterward anyway. It’s both a more eco-friendly and sanitary option for body disposal than cremation. Unlike with traditional burial, aquamation does not require taking up space on land for a burial plot. Therefore, it can reduce the need for land space that would be better used for earth’s natural creatures.
Ashes from a water cremation can be handled in the exact same way as ashes from a flame cremation. So, anything you would normally do with ashes you can do with aquamation ashes. Many families choose to keep their aquamation ashes in an urn or keepsake box. Below are some more ideas for what to do with the ashes of your loved one.
Keepsake urns are no different than regular urns except for their design and size. Keepsake urns are smaller so as to distribute portions of your loved ones ashes into several different urns.
You can then gift these keepsake urns to different members of your family or close friends. Keepsake urns come in a variety of customizable options. They are a great way for those closest to the deceased to keep a part of them.
If you plan on burying your loved one’s ashes after their water cremation, you may consider an eco-friendly urn. Eco-friendly urns like the Birch Tree Cremation Urn, use biodegradable materials that won’t harm the environment. Eco-friendly urns will decompose over time without leaving behind a carbon footprint. They are ideal for burying your loved one’s ashes in.
Some families may prefer to scatter their loved one’s ashes rather than keep them in an urn or keepsake box. Scattering the ashes of a loved one is seen as returning your loved one back to the earth. Many surviving family members choose to scatter their loved one’s ashes in places the deceased had strong ties to, like an ancestral home, favorite park, or favorite city.
Scattering urns are useful for scattering your loved one’s ashes, particularly if you want to scatter them in different areas. Scattering urns, or scattering tubes, are cylindrical metal urns that hold ashes. They have a screw off top that makes it easy to disperse as little or as much of your loved ones ashes at any given time. They are also smaller so as to fit more easily into a purse or bag for travel.
Another way to share your loved one’s ashes with friends and family is to put some of their aquamation ashes into cremation jewelry. Cremation jewelry, such as the rose gold marvel cylinder necklace urn, is jewelry for ashes. The cylinder pendant holds a small amount of your loved ones ashes in a special compartment. You can buy several cremation jewelry pieces for your loved ones and spread the deceased’s ashes between them.
Like cremation jewelry, ashes into jewelry necklaces, rings, and pendants incorporate your loved one’s ashes into their design. However, with ash jewelry, your loved one’s ashes are mixed into the resin on the jewelry itself. Ash jewelry is another way to spread your loved one’s ashes between multiple friends and family members.
Ash jewelry comes in various styles and jewelry types. You can choose from different shapes, such as hearts, crosses, or even animal shapes. Many ash jewelry pieces allow for personalization such as engraving your loved one’s name or initials. There are many options for making your ash jewelry as special as your loved one was.
Ash diamonds are made from cremains. They are made by placing your loved one’s ashes into extreme temperatures to cause the carbon in the ashes to oxidize. Oxidation turns the carbon into graphite which is then placed with a metal catalyst to form a crystal seed. From here, the core is pressed to form a diamond. Ash diamonds take several months to form and are a beautiful and unique way to memorialize your deceased loved ones.
You can then take your ash diamond and have it made into a ring, necklace, or any other type of jewelry. To do this, you will need to contact your local jeweler to see what kind of jewelry piece they can create for you. You could also choose to display the diamond in a special display case or box. Another option would be to sew it into your clothing or accessories (like a purse).
Use your loved ones ashes to create unique memorial gifts like a stuffed animal filled with your loved one’s ashes. Memorial stuffed animals make great keepsakes for children who are missing their loved ones. They can also make a great keepsake for anyone who wants to keep the deceased close to them.
Other ideas for memorial or remembrance gifts include photo engraved keychains, initial engraved keychains or coins, bookmarks, and memorial portraits. You can have these gifts made for all guests in attendance at your loved one’s memorial or just for a select number of friends and family.
If you’ve recently water cremated your pet, you can have some of their ashes made into a special stone. You may be able to customize this stone with an engraving of their name or special symbol. Ash stones are an eco-friendly option for displaying your pet’s ashes. Stones are natural and can become part of the environment.
You can then place the ash stone in your garden or keep it somewhere special in your home. You could also consider placing the stone near one of your pet’s favorite places, like a special park or beach. Ash stones serve as a special way to memorialize your pet while having them become part of their environment.
One of the more unique things you could consider for your loved one’s ashes is having them made into a fireworks display. There are companies that will put your loved one’s ashes into fireworks that can then be lit and watched by you and your family. The firework display will scatter your loved one’s ashes over the sky in a beautiful and unique memorial celebration.
An ash tattoo is tattoo ink that is mixed with your loved one’s ashes. You may be able to find a tattoo artist that will incorporate your loved one’s ashes into their tattoo ink to give you your choice of tattoo. You can choose a tattoo that depicts your loved one’s image or a symbol of their passing.
You could even have their name or nickname tattooed on whatever part of your body you choose. In this way, you can keep your loved one with you wherever you go for the rest of your life. It is a unique way to memorialize your loved one and keep them close to you.
You may be interested in aquamation because it is a more environmentally friendly cremation. If you are concerned about your impact on the environment, you can choose to have an eco-friendly funeral for yourself or loved ones. Below are some ways you can make your funeral or your loved one’s funeral more eco-friendly.
Many urns are made from metals and materials that do not break down as easily as biodegradable materials such as wood. Whether you are planning on burying your loved ones' aquamation ashes or keeping them, a biodegradable urn is a more sustainable option.
Eventually, time will pass and it will be your turn to pass over. When you leave, you will want to leave behind as little of a carbon footprint as possible. Knowing that your belongings, such as your loved one’s urn, is biodegradable will help you rest assured.
Invite your guests to a memorial service near a stream, lake, or river. Provide flowers for them that they can place in the water for a beautiful and picture-worthy tribute to the deceased. A flower tribute is more eco-friendly than a floating lantern tribute and more unique. If you’d like, you can combine the floating flowers with scattering your loved one’s ashes into the water as well.
Aquamation ashes are eco-friendly and won’t cause harm to the ecosystem of the natural body of water. You could also provide guests with biodegradable paper for them to write notes to the deceased. The biodegradable paper will dissolve in the water after a few minutes, thus making it an eco-friendly tribute.
Hold a memorial service for your loved one outside in nature. Ask people to walk or carpool to the destination to limit the use of energy and emittance of fossil fuel gasses. Holding the service outside in nature will help you and your guests appreciate our earth and feel more connected to nature. It’s a beautiful and peaceful way for others to remember and honor the deceased.
If you have a garden or access to an open plot of land, ask your memorial guests to plant a tree or bush in your loved one’s honor. In this way, guests can contribute to the sustainability of the earth. Provide your guests with the necessary tools and seedlings for planting their tree or bush.
For guests who can’t make it to the memorial service, ask them to plant their own tree or bush on their own time in their own garden.
Do your best to refrain from using plastic or using other props or materials that will be discarded afterward. If you hold a post-ceremony reception for example, don’t use plastic silverware or plates. Do your best to provide reusable silverware, plates, and napkins for your guests.
Store food and leftover food in glass Tupperware containers instead of plastic containers. If you have any memorial brochures or cards given out to guests, opt for recycled paper if you can. Should you have no option but to use plastics, do your best to recycle any recyclable materials after the reception is over.
A candlelight vigil is a common type of memorial service. It can also be eco-friendly if you and your guests are using natural wax candles like soy or beeswax. Many commercially sold candles use petroleum-based wax that’s not as eco-friendly. Provide eco-friendly candles for your guests to be sure the ceremony is truly sustainable.
A quick Google search should be able to tell you what states are legally practicing aquamation. Additionally, you can also check with your local funeral home in case government websites are not up to date. As of now, all US states allow water cremation for pets but only half allow human aquamation. Many of these states are however in pending legislation for making it legal.
States where aquamation is legal for humans include Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia. If you can’t find a funeral home that does aquamation for humans in your state, you could consider finding an aquamation facility in a neighboring state where it is legal. You can reach out to aquamation facilities online to find out more.
Below are resources for learning more about aquamation as well as where it can be done in the US.
Bio-Response Solutions: The Bio-Response Solutions website has useful information about aquamation. There is an entire FAQ page dedicated to answering some of the most common questions about aquamation. They are a company that specializes in aquamation and biocontainment.
USFuneralsOnline: This website has a state by state status for aquamation legality. If you are curious whether your state legally offers aquamation, check out this page.
Smithsonian Magazine: The Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article about aquamation and its history. You can read the article online if you are interested in learning more about the history of aquamation.
ScienceDirect: If you are interested in learning more about the science behind aquamation, this article from ScienceDirect goes in depth about the scientific process.
The process for aquamation involves using water and alkalinity to dissolve or decompose a body. The body is placed inside a metal cylinder that is then filled with a solution of 95% water and 5% alkaline minerals. Next, heat is introduced. Temperatures will get as high as 300 degrees fahrenheit. Water, alkalinity, heat, and mild agitation are combined to gently decompose the body. The process can take anywhere from 6-20 hours.
Any kind of animal can be decomposed through aquamation. However, most pet aquamation facilities will likely have limitations on the types of animals they will process. Most of these limitations are based on size or weight of the animal. The size and weight of your pet may also determine the price of your pet’s aquamation.
During both cremation and aquamation it is unlikely that every portion of the deceased’s ashes will make it through the whole process. However, during aquamation, families can expect 20-30% more ashes than they would receive after cremation. This is because the aquamation process is gentler than cremation. It uses lower temperatures to decompose the body, which makes it less likely that the bone minerals will disintegrate into air.
Metal medical implants do not need to be removed before aquamation. Metals will withstand the aquamation process after which they are cleaned, sterilized, and recycled through a metal refiner. Aquamation preserves metal medical implants especially well compared to flame cremation.
Aquamation is known as a green alternative to cremation because it uses less energy and does not emit greenhouse gasses. Aquamation does not burn anything. Instead, it uses heated water to gently wash over the body and decompose the organic material much like a natural stream would.
Unlike with flame cremation, pacemakers and other battery-operated medical devices do not need to be removed before the aquamation process. During cremation, temperatures are too high for batteries, causing them to explode. Aquamation does not use as high temperatures, meaning there is little risk for them exploding.
The family does not need to have battery operated devices surgically removed prior to aquamation, which can save money and time. At the end of the aquamation process, pacemakers and other battery-operated medical devices are recovered and recycled.
Once the aquamation process is complete, the water is recycled through wastewater treatment facilities and returned to the ecosystem. Contrary to what one might think, the end result of aquamation is a completely sterile solution of amino acids, salts, sugars, nutrients, and soap. All of which are the byproducts of natural decomposition.
Aquamation is an alternative to cremation and burial for families who are making arrangements for the recently deceased. Families like to know they have options and aquamation is both a new and eco-friendly option for saying goodbye to your loved ones. You can rest assured knowing your loved one is being laid to rest in a sustainable and gentle fashion.
December 30, 2022 by Frances Kay