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Environment

Being Dead Is No Excuse for Not Being Environmentally Conscious

DiscoblogBy Emily ElertMay 26, 2010 2:38 AM
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No one dreams of leaving a lasting carbon footprint on the world when they depart. But if it’s a choice between that and being reduced to a brown soupy liquid and a pile of bones, which option would you take? The California legislature is considering allowing funeral homes to provide a third alternative to burial or cremation. Instead of hauling out the backhoe or firing up an incinerator to dispose of human remains, funeral directors could offer a method called alkaline hydrolysis or “bio-cremation.” This technique uses hot water, pressure, and sodium- or potassium-hydroxide (the strongly basic chemicals often referred to as lye) to break down the body’s tissues into simple molecules in a matter of a few hours. Proponents of bio-cremation say it's the eco-friendly death option. They note that cremation produces air pollution and greenhouse gases, while burials use tons of wood for caskets and involve treating bodies with hazardous embalming chemicals. Four other states have already approved bio-cremation, but before funeral homes can offer the service, they have to figure out what to do with the environmentally friendly liquid remains. Last week, an undertaking service in Minnesota asked its local city council for permission to pour it down the drain. Out of respect for the dead, or reverence for the city's sewer system, or maybe just gut-level disgust, the council rejected the proposal. Related Content: Discoblog: Wireless Gravestone Tech Will Broadcast Your Awesomeness to Posterity Discoblog: “Gravestone Project” Takes Citizen Science to the Cemetery Discoblog: Save the Planet: Dissolve Your Dead DISCOVER: The Future of Death DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn't Know About... DeathImage: iStockphoto

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