Why you should have heard of ‘Alkaline Hydrolysis’

Have you? Really cool if you have! If you haven’t, please let me to give you a brief introduction to the process which is also known as ‘water cremation’. 

We all know about burials and cremations, and the fact it’s quite accepted to decide to have either happen to you once you die. I happen to live near the South Essex Crematorium where all of the family I know who are deceased have been interred in various places. It’s pretty much tradition in my family to be cremated and have a little plaque with your name somewhere on a wall there. In fact, writing this has reminded me I’ve not been for a while and should pay them all a visit soon! This week in the mortuary I learnt a bit about the legalities, paperwork and the process of cremation- it’s fascinating!

Cremation involves the deceased being burnt in a furnace at very high temperatures until nothing is left but bone, ash and any implants or other devices. Hopefully not pacemakers or other cardiac implants as these can cause explosions and should always be removed first! The fire can take anywhere from an hour to three hours to produce ‘cremains’. These cremains are ground into dust and are versatile in that they can then be kept in an urn at home, scattered at a location of your choice, interred somewhere, or even turned into a glittering stone for jewellery. It’s been seen for a long time as more sustainable, it uses less space in total and a much cleaner way of handling the deceased. 

A Roman glass cremation urn from the British Museum- an alternative to burial for thousands of years (photo taken on a recent visit).

However there’s a new kid on the block of funerary practices known as Water Cremation or Alkaline Hydrolysis. Alkaline Hydrolysis is a process where the deceased are placed into a solution of water and lye (lye is a chemical that is caustic in water). This is then heated and moved about until its produces a liquid of all the squishy bits of the person and leaves the bony remains behind. The bones can then be ground into dust and leave something a lot like traditional ashes. The whole process is easier, uses less energy and is overall better for the environment through less fumes than traditional cremation, and no harmful chemicals unlike burial where the embalming chemicals can be released. 
Currently it’s not widely available and is not legal in many places where it is not a recognised method. However, it seems to be thought of as the future of practices, and appears to be a step forward. Personally, one of my huge fears is drowning so I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I don’t think I’d much fancy being set on fire either, and I guess it’s not exactly a problem once I’m dead! 

For more information see the below sources- 

Wikipedia page – Alkaline Hydrolysis

Business Insider UK Article 

South Essex Crematorium 

What’s lye?

Ashes into Glass – just one company (local to me) who can create jewellery from cremains 

Pacemaker explosions article 

Please do comment or get in touch if you have any thoughts as I would love to hear from you, and thank you for reading as always! 

MG x

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