WATER CREMATION IS NEW LOCAL OPTION
By Doctor Walker
As our culture embraces a more “green” way of living, people frequently ask how they can engage in green death: How can they be respectful of the body of a deceased loved one while caring for our planet, which provided sustenance throughout the loved one’s life? To achieve both goals, two burial practices that are gentle to the body and return loved ones to the earth from which they came are growing in popularity. Water cremation (alkaline hydrolysis) and green (natural) burial are respectful and environmentally friendly options available in Greater Kansas City. Any funeral home can provide these choices to families, though some may be less familiar with these services as the industry adapts to changing market preferences. Both options allow the family to observe religious rituals or other customs in the same way as do traditional burials.
Water cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis
In the Kansas City metro, H.T. May & Sons Funeral Home, serving central and western Missouri, provides water cremation through Hughes Funeral Alternatives of St. Louis, Mo. H.T. May offers the service for a competitive price of $1,095, a fee that includes receiving the body into the firm’s care, transporting it to St. Louis, and returning the cremated human remains to the family for the chosen disposition. Hughes Funeral Alternatives uses a system manufactured by the leader in water cremation technology, Bio-Response Solutions, Inc., of Danville, Ind. Water cremation through Hughes is currently available from 22 funeral homes. While the alkaline hydrolysis process is new to our part of the country, the Mayo Clinic has used it since 2006. The Cremation Association of North America explains that the process uses “water, alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes pressure and agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition…” Neither tissue nor DNA remain after the process is complete. The remaining bones are then pulverized and returned to the family for burial or other final disposition. Medical appliances are readily retrieved for recycling.
In Bio-Response systems, the process takes between eight and 16 hours. Powered by electricity, which can be generated by the sun or wind, the system requires no fossil fuels and uses 75 to 90 percent less energy overall than flame cremation. No harmful greenhouse gases are emitted and no mercury (from dental fillings, for instance) is released into the environment.
Joe Wilson, CEO of Bio-Response Solutions, states that water cremation “is true recycling of life’s nutrients, not burning them away into useless and detrimental air pollution.”
The other readily available environmentally friendly alternative is “green” or “natural” burial. In a green burial, the body is wrapped in a natural cloth or placed in a biodegradable box, wicker basket, or wood coffin. The body is then placed in a grave in a designated natural cemetery or a cemetery that allows natural burial. Green burials do not permit embalming, which is invasive and uses toxic chemicals, or metal caskets and vaults, which consume resources and energy.
Several local cemeteries offer a green or natural burial section. Historic Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence is recognized as the first municipally owned cemetery to have a natural section. A garden for cremated human remains is also in the planning stage there. Douglas County residents may purchase a plot for $900, which does not include opening/closing of the grave, shroud, coffin, or other applicable fees. The fee for Douglas County non-residents is $1,350. Like many natural-burial sections, Oak Hill allows native-stone markers. Prairie flowers and grasses adorn that portion of the cemetery.
Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing offers natural burial plots at $1,025. Highland Cemetery of Prairie Village, the only place in the metro that welcomed natural burials in recent years, is now sold out. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita has created a natural area at Ascension Cemetery. Heartland Prairie Cemetery is Salina’s natural alternative.
The closest natural-burial option on the Missouri side of the metro is Green Acres, near Columbia, Mo., where a plot costs $900. H.T. May & Sons Funeral Home will receive the body into their care and take it to Green Acres for $1,500.
Options in the works
On the horizon, we see emerging green burial options such as Recompose, a public-benefit organization offering the patent-pending human composting legalized earlier this year in the state of Washington. In Recompose, the body is placed in a vessel among natural materials that accelerate decomposition. The resulting rich compost will most likely be placed in forest-like cemeteries.
Interestingly, while green alternatives are the growing trend, one proposal, open-funeral pyres, explores a very different direction. Legislation nicknamed “The Jedi” (or “Viking” or “Game of Thrones”) funeral bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Missouri General Assembly to allow the open-flame cremation of human bodies. Sponsored by state Sen. Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City), the bill harkens back to ancient funeral practices. But Missouri Gov. Mike Parson vetoed the bill, citing inadequate oversight to ensure that the procedure would “be conducted in a manner that fully disposes of the entire remains while also addressing the health and safety concerns of individuals who may be impacted nearby.”
Holsman pledged to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session. □ Joe Walker is a pastoral care minister at Country Club Christian Church: firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-853-5875. To learn more about planning for green burials, visit greenburialcouncil.org.