Ashes to ashes, dust to bottled water

06 Sep 2011, 00:05

Earlier this year, the Sceptic Tank wrestled with the rather morbid task of arranging his own funeral, concluding that his final act before becoming a mantelpiece ornament for loved ones should involve a trip to the UK's greenest crematorium in Redditch, where the resulting heat will be used to warm the local swimming pool.

However, it turns out he might have to change the terms of his will after it emerged that a greener alternative is now available, thanks to a Scottish company and its body-dissolving technology.

Last week the BBC's Newsnight took a break from failing to get politicians to answer basic questions to report on Resomation Ltd and its installation of the world's first commercial "alkaline hydrolysis" unit at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St Petersburg, Florida.

Apparently, cremation is a rather carbon-intensive process that, thanks to dental fillings, can also lead to significant emissions of toxic mercury. Resomation is now taking on this unheralded environmental problem with a process described by the BBC in gloriously prosaic detail:
"The system works by submerging the body in a solution of water and potassium hydroxide, which is pressurised to 10 atmospheres and heated to 180 degrees Celcius for between two-and-a-half and three hours.

"Body tissue is dissolved and the liquid poured into the municipal water system. [Resomation founder] Sandy Sullivan, a biochemist by training, says tests have proven the effluent is sterile, contains no DNA and poses no environmental risk.

"The bones are then removed from the unit and processed in a cremulator, the same machine that is used to crush bone fragments into ash following a cremation. Metals including mercury and artificial joints and implants are safely recovered."

The Sceptic Tank is sold and will begin lobbying forthwith for a change to the law that allows this technology to be deployed in the UK. After all, what could be greener than replacing dusty old ashes with a nice and refreshing bottle of sustainably sourced water?

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