After a remarkable loved one passes away, we’re left with many decisions regarding their end of life services and memorials. To honor the incredible lives our loved ones led, we want to make these decisions with their unique personality in mind. Understanding our many options for post-life services can help us choose the right services to best represent their singular impact and legacy.

Aquamation is a form of post-life service that processes a loved one’s remains after they have passed away. It is a new addition to post-life options, alongside traditional means such as burial or flame-based cremation. While there is no wrong decision when it comes to end-of-life services, aquamation may appeal to families whose remarkable loved ones were passionate about sustainability and the Earth.

Below we will explain the process of aquamation and whether it is more sustainable than other post-life services.

What Is Aquamation?

Aquamation is a liquid-based form of cremation that does not rely on flames or flame-based heat to transform our loved ones’ remains into memorial ashes.

Although flameless cremation may be a new concept to some of us, it has been used for nearly three decades. Originally created in the 1990s, it was originally used to care for animal remains during the mad cow disease epidemic. 

Aquamation began to gain popularity for human end-of-life services in the early 2000s, and it has been approved for use in states including Minnesota, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, and Kansas.

Before we can explain what makes aquamation different, we must first explore other post-life services for our incredible loved ones.

The Death Care Industry 

The death care industry is a necessary part of society that helps us with the crucially important practical and technical choices that arise after a loved one’s passing. These choices help us to honor the impact and legacy of our remarkable loved ones by keeping their unique personalities and preferences in mind.

Largely, the death care industry provides hygienic and dignified options for post-life services such as cremation and burial.

When a loved one or pet passes away, the natural decomposition process begins immediately. As we grieve a new loss, we may not have the emotional space to make decisions surrounding the care of our loved ones' bodies. However, time is of the essence. This is why many of us create plans for our post-life services, so our loved ones do not have to make the challenging decisions in the midst of their grief.

The funeral industry and death care industry provide the tools, plans, and practical steps to help individuals and families through the difficult process of experiencing the death of a remarkable loved one. 

What Options Does the Death Care Industry Offer?

Funeral and memorial services, post-life services like burial and cremation, and occasionally life insurance are all left in the capable hands of the death care industry. These options help guide us after the loss of a remarkable loved ones and provide ways we can celebrate the incredible life they lived. 

Historically, the most prominent options for post-life services have been burial and cremation. Over the years, cremation has become one of the most common end-of-life options in death care, surpassing traditional earthen burials in terms of popularity.

Burial is still a thoughtful option for post-life services, and there is no right or wrong decision when choosing how to lay an incredible loved one to rest. Each form of post-life service is a dignified and ethical option with great care for our loved ones.

However, with rising populations in densely populated areas, cremation has become a prominent and sensible post-life decision. There are several other reasons why cremation has become so common, such as cost and memorial options. 

In some cases, cremation is more affordable than burial. Also, cremation can provide a smaller, less ornate experience for loved ones who would prefer a simple memorial. 

An example of this could be a loved one who does not want funeral services but had a deep connection with nature who would like their ashes scattered on a favorite hiking trail. Cremation helps families observe this heartfelt and thoughtful memorial option.

Types of Cremation 

Whether you are making plans for your own journey or have the honor of making these choices for a loved one who has passed, you have a couple of different cremation options. 

Traditional cremation involves all of the steps included during burial. Your loved one will still experience the embalming process prior to funeral services. They will then be taken to be cremated following their memorial. Once your loved one has been cremated, the ashes are given to surviving family and friends in a beautiful urn. 

Memorial cremation also allows for funeral services; however, the body is cremated before services take place. This removes the costs of embalming and caskets, both of which are necessary for a traditional cremation. 

Direct cremation is the process of immediately cremating our loved ones without funeral services, then giving the ashes directly to surviving family members. This option can be used if our loved one requested no funeral or memorial services. Often following direct cremation, a loved one or pet’s ashes are then thoughtfully sprinkled over an area with sentimental meaning, often with surviving loved ones present to honor the impact and legacy of those who passed on. 

Aquamation: What Are the Big Differences?

Aquamation is another form of cremation that is growing in popularity alongside traditional flame-based cremation. This thoughtful new method of cremation is a heartfelt way to honor the impact and legacy of a loved one who was passionate about the environment, as it may be more sustainable than other forms of cremation.

The first way that water cremation is different from flame-based cremation is that it does not use flame-based heat. Heat during aquamation is only used for a catalytic effect, and the heat itself is not responsible for the breakdown of organic tissue. 

Flame-based cremation uses heat that builds up in a special cremation oven called a retort to break down organic tissue. Our loved ones and pets are mostly made of water, so when they are exposed to these high temperatures, their organic material evaporates or sublimates into gas. What’s left are bones that are further processed and transformed into four to six pounds of memorial ash.

How Does Aquamation Break Down the Body?

The process of aquamation relies on a chemical reaction called alkaline hydrolysis. When a loved one’s body experiences aquamation after death, they are submerged in a large stainless steel vessel made up of an alkaline solution. This solution is a mixture of water (95%) and a strong alkali like potassium hydroxide (5%). Through a combination of gentle water flow, alkalinity, and a slight increase in heat, a chemical reaction begins that breaks down organic materials within our loved ones’ remains. 

The breakdown of organic material through this water solution is the same breakdown that happens during natural decomposition, which is what happens during earthen burial. This process is simply catalyzed by the alkaline solution. The heat used in this process only serves as another catalyst to make the entire process fit inside one day. 

Is Aquamation More Energy Efficient?

Because the aquamation process uses the natural chemical reaction of alkaline hydrolysis and only uses heat to act as a catalyst, it uses much less energy than flame-based cremation. Not only that, but flame-based cremation also emits a larger amount of harmful greenhouse gasses. The carbon footprint for aquamation is much smaller, making it an eco-friendly alternative to cremation for loved ones who cared deeply about sustainability. 

Interestingly, earthen burial also has aspects that are unsustainable. Coffins are largely non-biodegradable and take up a large amount of land space.

This is in large part why aquamation is also known as Green Cremation because the process uses more natural chemical reactions and takes up much less energy, making it a caring and heartfelt option in the midst of our climate crisis. 

Is Aquamation Safe?

The effluent produced through aquamation is completely sterile and mimics the natural process of tissue hydrolysis. If you're wondering what happens to the leftover wastewater, this liquid is a sterile solution of peptides, salts, sugars, nutrients, and amino acids. 

Once the process of alkaline hydrolysis has run its course, the resulting effluent is drained into a separate container where it is treated to a safe pH and hygienically disposed of, making it a safe option for the aquamation professionals and the environment.

Is Aquamation More Sustainable?

With a growing population, the increase in cremations could mean a significant increase in our collective carbon footprint. Sustainability is one of the most appealing aspects of aquamation, simply because it produces fewer carbon emissions and uses less energy. 

That being said, there is no right or wrong option when it comes to post-life services. Each of our loved ones is unique, and the best post-life service for them must align with their incredible and singular personalities and desires. 

Both types of cremation create human ashes that we can display in an urn, sprinkle in a sentimental area, or turn into a memorial diamond to celebrate the lives of our remarkable loved ones.

No matter which choice you and your loved ones make, honor the option that best fits your wishes or the wishes of your loved one. Whether that’s traditional or liquid-based cremation or even earthen burial, your loved ones will be treated with the utmost respect and care.


What is aquamation? The process behind Desmond Tutu's 'green cremation' | Desmond Tutu | The Guardian 

Resomation - Body Donation | Mayo Clinic

The History of Death and Burial Customs | ThoughtCo