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Have you come across the term Aquamation?



With the recent death and funeral service for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, there has been a lot of discussion about his choice of how he would be put to rest. 

He wanted to make sure his funeral was as environmentally-friendly as possible and so he left instructions, choosing aquamation which uses water instead of fire.

What is aquamation?

Aquamation or water cremation is the gentle process of returning the body to ashes using water and a small amount of alkali-based solution to speed up the natural process the body goes through at the end of life.

The body is first placed in a coffin or shroud made from biodegradable materials before being carefully placed in the water cremator, where over a short amount of time the body returns to its basic organic elements.

The process liquifies everything except for the bones, which are then dried in an oven and reduced to white dust, placed in an urn and handed to relatives in much the same way as ashes are when a cremation takes place.

How commonplace is this method of disposal?

Much like human composting (which is a technique of composting bodies with layers of organic material such as leaves or wood chips) aquamation is still authorised only in certain countries. In South Africa, where Archbishop Tutu's funeral took place, there is at present no legislation governing the practice.

How did aquamation come to be used?

It was first developed in the early 1990s as a method (a) to discard the bodies of animals used in experiments and (b) to dispose of cattle during the mad cow disease epidemic.

A decade later, USA medical schools used the same method to dispose of  donated human cadavers.  Later, the practice started to be used by the funeral industry. 

Why is aquamation likely to grow in popularity? 

  • Worldwide, space for burials in urban areas is becoming much more expensive and difficult to find.
  • Cremation comes with its own set of environmental toxins.
  • The use of water rather than flames sounds so much more peaceful and gentle. 
  • Aquamation or a liquid cremation consumes less energy and emits less greenhouse gases than a conventional cremation.  It is said this water method uses five times less energy than fire while reducing greenhouse gases emissions by some thirty five per cent.

And the future of funerals?

The concept of how funerals themselves should be carried out is suddenly changing and perhaps not before time.

For decades, and perhaps even centuries, funerals have been all about ceremony and protocol. 

Today, there are many options as to how funerals can be conducted including the zero fuss funeral, the bio urn, the burial pod, wicker caskets, natural burial, eternal reefs and freeze-drying.  And now aquamation can be added to that list.

Green and environmentally-friendly burials are starting to catch the imagination of the American and worldwide public.  Here in the UK, the National Association of Funeral Directors has said that organizations are working with local government to introduce aquamation to the UK.  Its adoption will depend on ensuring what enters the water course at the end is appropriate.  It is currently available in certain states in the US and Canada, parts of Australia, Mexico, South Africa and the Netherlands.

The cost in the USA of these water cremations ranges between $900 to $2,500.

If you have lost a close friend or relative

Death, and the grief that accompanies this, will affect each and every one of us at some time in our lives. And yet we never seem to be prepared for it in the same way as we are prepared for birth.

Of course it is something that we don’t want to happen while we will usually welcome birth.



 Aquamation - An Eco-Friendly alternative to flame cremation (aquamationinfo.com)


 Nonpharmacologic Methods to Improve the Euthanasia Experience - ScienceDirect