"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we all fall down..." In larger numbers now than ever before, because there is more of us in the world and because the elderly make up a larger part of us.
The population growth is ultimately responsible for our acute need to protect the environment. The aging of the population makes funeral services a booming business. These two healthy modern trends have finally met, fallen in love, and produced their first offspring: a green alternative to cremation. Two alternatives to be precise, and two new words in the English language: resomation and promession.
Resomation (also called water cremation, water resolution or bio-cremation) dissolves the body to its chemical components. The body is placed in a silk bag and then in a metal cage frame which is loaded into a resomation machine for approximately three hours. The machine is filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide and heated to a high temperature at high pressure.
The output is a small quantity of green-brown liquid (containing amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts) and calcium phosphates. These are easily crushed to form a white-colored dust. Both the liquid and the dust can be returned to the family and may be buried or used as organic fertilizer.
Resomation is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than cremation. It is currently legal in Florida, Maine and Oregon. In Minnesota, Mayo Clinic uses a similar process to dispose of donated bodies.
Promession uses freeze-drying to reduce the body to powder. Like resomation, it is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation. Developed in Sweden, it is a relatively simple process that breaks down human remains with no release of toxins into the air or high energy use.
Within a week and a half after death, the body is submerged in liquid nitrogen which removes the water and causes the body to become brittle. It is then exposed to vibrations that reduce the remains to a fine organic powder weighing about 30% of the original mass. The powder is dried, and any metals present can be removed for recycling. Remains can be stored indefinitely in a vacuum-sealed container (exposure to moisture will allow for natural decomposition), or one can opt for a "green" eco-friendly burial.
Currently promession is not available in the United States. The first Promatoria, are due to be ready in 2011 in Sweden, Great Britain & South Korea. Here's an illustrated description from Promessa Organic:
Illustrated description of an ecological funeral
1. The corpse is frozen down to -18 °C.
2. The coffin with the deceased is lowered into liquid nitrogen. The body becomes very firm and brittle.
3. The coffin and the body are exposed to a light vibration, disintegrating into dust.
4. Mercury and other metals are separated using a magnetic field.
5. 25 – 30 kg of the powder now remains. This is put into a coffin made from potato starch.
6. The starch coffin is buried shallowly and will turn into compost in 6 – 12 months' time. A tree can be planted on the grave. It will then absorb the nutrients given off.
Then there is also selling your body for parts or giving it to science. But if you are like me and want your body returned to the ground in a "whole" "minimally processed" state – to feed the worms and come back to life as a wildflower – be sure to eat organic, drink filtered water, and stay away from prescription drugs. You don't want to poison the ground waters and kill the vultures.