Over 75% of Washington residents choose to be cremated after their deaths. The cremation process has a significant carbon footprint, as does traditional burial. However, Washington residents will soon be able to dispose of human remains using more environmentally friendly methods. The state legislature recently adopted a law permitting two new processes to dispose of human remains: alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction.
Alkaline hydrolysis (also known as liquid cremation) produces the same effect as cremation. However, it uses considerably less energy than cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that uses water with potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide to reduce a body to liquid and bone. The remains can be placed in an urn, like ashes from cremation.
Natural organic reduction (also known as recomposition) is an even more environmentally friendly option. The process is based on a method used by farmers to decompose livestock. It involves covering a body with natural material such as straw and woodchips. Over a few weeks, the body decomposes due to microbial activity and produces compost. The process uses 1/8th the energy of cremation. Washington is the first state to legalize natural organic reduction.
If you are determining your end of life wishes, you should consider these new processes as an alternative to traditional disposition. Because these new methods are safe and more environmentally friendly than other options, you may take comfort knowing that the disposition of your remains will be “greener” than traditional cremation or burial methods.
The new law does not take effect until May 1, 2020. Facilities offering alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction processes are not presently available, and will likely not be available until late 2020 at the earliest.