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Alkaline Hydrolysis is a process of reduction of human tissue, whereby the elements of the body return to a liquid state and placed back into the water cycle.

Alkaline hydrolysis is a process of chemical reduction whereby organic and protein-based materials are reduced to liquid. There are different ways of doing this, using both pressurised machines with high temperature, and unpressurised machines with a low (or atmospheric) temperature. There are two main companies providing this technology in the USA – Bio-Response and Resomation. This is a relatively new method of human body disposal, which is both a disruptive technology and a working technology. 

This process is known by many names including flameless cremation, water cremation, Resomation, Aquamation and it is legal in more than 20 states of the USA so far. I have been very lucky to experience this method up close and personal, more than once.

And…  it is now being picked up for introduction around the world.


Right here in Tasmania, we are about to get Australia’s first fully approved and functional water cremation facility. It is independent, not tied to any one funeral home – this means that anyone at all can request a funeral director organise a cremation for their person by water, instead of flame.

The say – ‘Alluvium Water Cremations recognise the growing importance of sustainable practices in every aspect of our lives, including end-of-life choices. With a passion for informed choices in death that reflect the values held in life, we have embraced this responsibility by offering a more sustainable solution that minimises our impact on the environment.’

Alkaline hydrolysis has been used to dispose of large farm animals for decades in many places in the world, and often the water has been used for irrigation and farming among other things. The process is really no different when used for a human, however the water is not just recycled in a farm setting, it is treated to a safe pH and then let back into the water cycle.

The amount of the chemical used in this process is about 5% by volume – the other 95% is water. In 2020 the Dutch government commissioned a report which has been completed, (Dutch government study) and they have determined that the effluent water from this process contains no DNA nor does it contain anything harmful and as such it is completely safe to go into the water treatment system. Furthermore they determined that the process was in line with the required tenets for body disposal – safety, dignity, and sustainability. 

The version of Alkaline Hydrolysis that is coming to Tasmania uses about 1000L of water. Tasmanians use around 450L a day in water, that’s the entire body disposal process for a little over two days water consumption per person and that water returns to the water cycle at the end of the process. See, the water, once the process is finished, is automatically pumped to another vat. Initially, the pH level at the end of the process is approximately 12–13, so the pH is tested and treated until it stabilises at the correct levels (it needs to be less than 10) before it is released into the drain to re-enter the water cycle. The process to stabilise the pH takes about 15 minutes.

I have been lucky enough to see two different versions of this process. Both times, walking into the room where the alkaline hydrolysis process takes place, the first thing I noticed was a warm and thick smell that I could not quite identify. It was distinct and unrecognisable and it reminded me a little of a kitchen. It was not either pleasant or unpleasant, simply different. Having been around death for a long time it was not something that I found difficult, but it was completely unique. I have also been lucky enough to collect the remains of a person after the process. The bones felt like chalk; they are pure white, a little gritty and brittle, different to how they come from a flame cremation, they are softer. It is fascinating and beautiful. Similar to flame cremation, those bones are then processed into the ashes people receive.

There are many benefits to alkaline hydrolysis, that is not just by comparison to flame cremation but also from a economic point of view, with alkaline hydrolysis you don’t need a coffin, you only use natural mortuary techniques and there’s no option for anything plastic or synthetic as a part of the process. What does this mean practically? You can not stitch the body in places as often happens, not pack the body with cotton wool or use plastic eye caps. In some versions of alkaline hydrolysis, you do not need to remove pacemakers (as is necessary prior to flame cremation) as the metal will be unaffected and will be picked up at the end along with ceramic and titanium joints. In the case where a body has been embalmed, there is sometimes a need to run the cycle twice. When heavy duty cavity fluid has been used in the preparation of the body, it will take longer for the body to break down. So ideally, although you can use this process if a body has been embalmed, the more naturally a person is treated in death the better this process will work. It’s a win win.

Alkaline hydrolysis, no matter the type, has an issue with the biohazard bags that are used when a body has been autopsied; at present during the autopsy process any organs removed from the body are placed in the bag at the end and that bag is tucked inside the body cavity. For alkaline hydrolysis, the morticians have to transfer the organs from the biohazard bag in the body cavity into a biodegradable (protein based) bag so that it will dissolve in the process. In case you are wondering, this is also a problem for natural burial which is a similarly plastic free process. I hope that one day the Coroners office will reconsider this process and become proactive, asking the funeral directors and families what their choices are around burial/cremation options so that they can best prepare the person for the next part of their journey; and allow the dead to be left in as much peace as possible through the process.

Alkaline hydrolysis is relatively inexpensive to run, is it purported to have less energy consumption that flame cremation, there is no atmospheric pollution and it is not a labour intensive process – for those who do not want to be buried, it is a significantly better alternative to flame cremation and it calls for a gentler handling of a person’s remains with much less invasive preparation required. There is also no need for a coffin, saving families money in more ways than one. 

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge fan of natural burial. That has not changed. But I also acknowledge that burial – of any type – does not suit everyone. There is a lovely narrative around the process of alkaline hydrolysis. This process allows the body to be broken down into the elements that created it and those elements are returned to the water cycle of life. Unlike other alkaline hydrolysis offerings that people have tried to bring to market over the years, this one works every time – it is tried and tested, has the backing of good people and all of the State, Council and water authority approvals in place. The water here does not need to be disposed of as waste (which happens elsewhere, with hazardous waste disposal companies transporting and processing the water); here it re-enters the water cycle and this is what makes this offering an Australian first.

If you’d like to know more, feel free to reach out and have a chat with Alluvium. They would love to tell you about, ‘this innovative, yet gentle approach to cremation ensures that each journey is as eco-friendly as possible. Water cremation reduces carbon emissions, eliminates harmful toxins, and conserves valuable resources. We are committed to preserving the planet for future generations, and by choosing Alluvium Water Cremations, you and your loved ones can support this goal.’  

This is a good thing to be informed about as it will add more options for all our families – more informed choices for people undertaking end of life planning.

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