Body-to-Bone (“B2B”) Sector Goes Green With New Bio-Cremation

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What better way to ensure eternal peace than knowing you went out with a minimal carbon footprint?

Matthews Cremation, a subsidiary of The Matthews Corporation, now offers a combustion-free form of cremation to die-hard environmentalists. “Bio-Cremation”, as it is called, emits one tenth the carbon dioxide of traditional cremation, according to the company.

Saving the Planet, One Dead Body at a Time

In traditional cremation, the corpse is incinerated in a natural-gas fueled combustion chamber, releasing about 880 pounds of CO2 into the air – equivalent to the environmental impact of a 500-mile car trip, according to Reuters.

In addition, if the body has metal fillings, artificial joints or other non-organic ingredients, they are released as toxic gases.

The other option, burial, is no greener. Most caskets are not very eco-friendly (though there has been progress), and bodies are often embalmed before burial, which means those chemicals inevitably end up in the top soil. Plus, cemeteries take up an enormous amount of space.

What’s a green mortal to do?

Don’t Read This While Eating Lunch…

In Bio-Cremation, a process known as alkaline hydrolysis essentially dissolves the body in a hot bath of chemicals, liquefying the soft tissue and leaving only bone and “a syrupy brown liquid” behind. That liquid either goes down the drain, or can be captured and handed over to relatives along with the bone.

The whole process takes about two hours and uses one-tenth the natural gas and one-third the electricity.

Furthermore, because there is no exhaust gases, crematoriums do not need zoning permission to install a smokestack (or deal with neighbors unhappy with the smoke).

Targeting the Organic Salmon Crowd

Steven Schaal, a division marketing manager for Pittsburgh-based Matthews, said the company has fielded inquiries from California, Washington and Oregon, states with a lot of aging environmentally conscious consumers.

“They have an audience that is already environmentally aware. They already go to Whole Foods. They already drive hybrid cars,” Schaal told Obit Magazine.

The method is also big in Canada.

Cost, Religion, “Hannibal Lecter Factor” Major Obstacles

Matthews Cremation plans to install its first bio-cremation machine in a funeral home in St. Petersburg, Florida, this year. Already, a similar device is used by the Mayo Clinic to cremate medical cadavers.

But the process faces some obstacles to wide-spread adoption. The machines are about twice the price of traditional cremation equipment, a cost that, like so many green technologies, is only mitigated over the long-run in lower fuel bills.

The Catholic Church has also come out against alkaline hydrolysis, calling it “not a respectful way to dispose of human remains.” But more recently the Catholic Register came out in support of the method.

In New York State, a bill to legalize the process was dubbed the Hannibal Lecter bill, in part a play on the name of the legislator that introduced it, Kemp Hannon, and in part because the chemicals used are very similar to lye, the preferred method of corpse disposal for serial killers in Hollywood movies. The bill was eventually dropped.

Currently only Minnesota, Maine and Florida allow the process.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.