The information that follows is intended to help the public more fully understand what occurs in the cremation process. The steps are detailed and should be carefully considered.
However, please note that this information has been prepared on a general basis. Because of variations in manufacturers and state/provincial and local laws, there may be some differences in process and legal requirements in different jurisdictions; your funeral service provider should be able to explain the specific process.
In 2010, CANA’s Board of Directors voted to expand the association’s definition of cremation to include processes like alkaline hydrolysis. The primary rationale for this was that state and provincial laws were already in place that determined alkaline hydrolysis could be marketed as cremation. From the consumer’s perspective the processes and results are similar.
From an operations perspective, the process – including but not limited to removal, storage, and the chain of identification – is similar to flame-based or “traditional” cremation with 2 exceptions:
- pacemakers and other implants that cannot be exposed to extreme heat and flame do not need to be removed prior to the cremation, and
- the remaining bone fragments need to be dried and cooled after the process.
The technical process of reducing the human body to cremated remains is distinctly different.
Alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes called water or green cremation, is a water-based dissolution process for human remains that uses alkaline chemicals, heat, pressure and sometimes agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition, leaving bone residue and a liquid. The liquid is considered a sterile wastewater and discharged with the permission of the local wastewater treatment authority and in accordance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws.
The Technical Details
Alkaline hydrolysis follows the standard cremation process as described on the CANA website by transporting the deceased to the facility, properly storing the body until cremation, and returning cremated remains to the authorized agent at the end. The process itself requires unique equipment and training.
An alkaline hydrolysis machine is comprised of a single chamber which is air- and watertight. The chamber holds approximately one hundred gallons of liquid. The deceased is placed into the single chamber which is then sealed. Sex, body mass and weight of the deceased determine the amount of water and alkaline chemicals (typically potassium hydroxide) combined to form a solution which fills the chamber from connecting pipes. The contents may be subjected to heat (199 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit), pressure, and/or agitation (varying with equipment) to ensure proper cremation. This process many take three to sixteen hours depending on equipment and body mass.
The resulting sterile liquid is released via a drain to the local wastewater treatment authority in accordance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws. Like flame-based cremation, what remains after the dissolution process are bone fragments, now called cremated remains or hydrolyzed remains, which appear pure white in color. These cremated remains are carefully transferred from the machine into a tray and allowed to cool and dry before pulverization. The process results in approximately 32% more cremated remains than flame-based cremation and may require a larger urn.
Legality of Alkaline Hydrolysis
This map is kept updated with regulatory changes.
Manufacturers, practitioners, and regulators are tasked with working together to make alkaline hydrolysis commercially available. However, legalization of the process does not mean it is publically or readily available.
Finding a Provider
Some states and provinces, despite legalization, lack an operating provider of alkaline hydrolysis. In some cases, the nearest provider may be in a neighboring state, so we recommend searching broadly for businesses classified as “Crematory, Alkaline Hydrolysis” in our Member Directory. In the case that the provider is out of state, you can either work directly with the alkaline hydrolysis facility in the neighboring state, or work with your local funeral home to arrange the transfer of the remains to the alkaline hydrolysis facility and return the cremated remains locally at the end of the process. Either way, it is important that you look into these arrangements in advance, as charges will vary from state to state.
Looking for an equipment manufacturer? Search the Supplier Member Directory for “Alkaline Hydrolysis Equipment Sales & Services” providers.