‘Water cremation’ is new local option

Reposted with permission from the Funeral Consumers Alliance
By Joe Walker

As our culture embraces a more “green” lifestyle, people frequently ask how they can be respectful of the body of a deceased loved one while at the same time caring for our planet which provided sustenance throughout their life. To achieve both goals, two burial practices which are gentle to the body and return the loved one to the earth from which they came are growing in popularity. Water cremation (alkaline hydrolysis) and green (natural) burial are respectful and environmentally-friendly options available in the Greater Kansas City Area. Any funeral home can provide these choices to families, though some may be less familiar with these services as the industry adapts to changing market preferences. Both options allow the family to observe religious rituals or other customs as do traditional burials.


Water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis

In the Greater Kansas City Area, H.T. May & Sons Funeral Home, serving central and western Missouri, provides water cremation through Hughes Funeral Alternatives of St. Louis. H. T. May offers the service for a very competitive price of $1,095, which includes receiving the body into their care and returning the cremated human remains to the family for burial. Hughes Funeral Alternatives uses a system manufactured by the leader in water cremation technology, Bio-Response Solutions, Inc. of Danville, IN. Presently, twenty-two funeral homes offer water cremation through Hughes.


While new to the Midwest, the Mayo Clinic has used an alkaline hydrolysis process since 2006. The Cremation Association of North America explains the process uses, “water, alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes pressure and agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition… There is no tissue and no DNA left after the process completes.” The remaining bones are then pulverized and returned to the family for burial or final disposition. Unlike flame cremation, medical appliances are retrieved for recycling.


In Bio-Response systems the process takes between 8-16 hours. Powered by electricity which can be generated by the sun or wind, the system requires no fossil fuels and overall uses 75-90% less energy than flame cremation. There are no emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses and no release of mercury to the environment. Joe Wilson, CEO of Bio-Response Solutions points out water cremation, “is true recycling of life’s nutrients, not burning them away into useless and detrimental air pollution”.


Water cremation uses about 250 gallons of water during the alkaline hydrolysis process. Wilson says at the conclusion of the process, “the water is a sterile, EPA neutral true solution of sugars, salts, small peptides, amino acids, soap, and minerals. It is high in nutrient value so it must go to land application (as fertilizer) or to a wastewater treatment plant where the nutrients are beneficial.”


Natural burial

The other readily available environmentally-friendly alternative is green or natural burial. In a green burial, the deceased is wrapped in a natural cloth or placed in a biodegradable box or wicker basket or wood coffin. The decedent is then placed in a grave in a designated natural cemetery. Green burials do not require embalming, which is invasive and uses toxic chemicals, or caskets and vaults, which consume resources and energy.


Several local cemeteries offer a green or natural burial section. Historic Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, KS is recognized as the first municipally-owned cemetery to have a natural section. A garden for cremated human remains is also in the planning stage there. Douglas County residents may purchase a plot for $900 (price does not include opening/closing the grave or shroud or coffin or other applicable fees). Non-residents fee is $1,350. Like many natural cemetery sections, native stone markers are allowed. Prairie flowers and grasses adorn that portion of the cemetery.


Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing offers natural burial plots at $1,025. Highland Cemetery of Prairie Village has spaces available for $800. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita has created a natural area at Ascension Cemetery. Heartland Prairie Cemetery is Salina’s natural alternative. The closest natural burial option on the Missouri side is Green Acres, near Columbia, MO, where a plot costs $900. H.T. May & Sons Funeral Home will receive the body into their care and take it to Green Acres for $1,500.


Options in the works

On the horizon, we see emerging green burial options such as Recompose (T), the patent-pending human composting procedure legalized earlier this year in the state of Washington. In Recompose, the body is placed in a vessel among natural materials which accelerate the process of decomposition. The resulting rich compost will most likely be placed in forest-like cemeteries.


Interestingly, while green alternatives are the growing trend, one proposal, open funeral pyres, explores a very different direction. Legislation nick-named “The Jedi” (or Viking or Game of Thrones) funeral bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Missouri General Assembly to allow the open flame cremation of human bodies. Sponsored by state Senator Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City), the bill harkens back to ancient funeral practices. Governor Mike Parson vetoed the bill citing inadequate oversight to ensure that the procedure would “be conducted in a manner that fully disposes of the entire remains while also addressing the health and safety concerns of individuals who may be impacted nearby.” Holsman pledged to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session.


Joe Walker, serves in the pastoral care ministry at the historic Country Club Christian Church, joew@cccckc.org or (816) 853-5875. To learn more about planning for green burials visit the national Green Burial Council (greenburialcouncil.org).