Washing dead bodies down the drain – a new “green” trend?

“Soylent Green” was a 1973 science fiction film that starred Charlton Heston.  In the movie, a primary foodstuff for an overpopulated and over-polluted world is something called “soylent green,” which is a processed, wafer-like biscuit.  Toward the end of the movie, which depicts a dystopian police state, Heston discovers that the primary ingredient in soylent green is processed human corpses. While the process of dissolving and then reconstituting human bodies into edible products does not yet appear to be on the horizon in the real world, the process of dissolving human bodies into liquids and disposing of them at water treatment plants, is.

The process of placing a human corpse in a pressurized vat with potassium hydroxide and then heating the liquid until all but bones, teeth and artificial metal joints are left, is catching on as more “eco-friendly” than cremation as a method of disposing of a loved one.  People whose mission in life is to do everything in as “green” a manner as possible appear to be the primary targets of the small, but growing number of companies that offer “resomation” as an alternative to traditional burial or cremation.  The “hook” with which customers are lured in is the claim that resomation is more environmentally-friendly than cremation;  because, for example, there is less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a by-product of the process — some 573 pounds according to an article appearing recently in the “Daily Mail” in the United Kingdom. 

The term “resomation” is a made-up word apparently taken from the Greek word “resoma,” which translates roughly to “rebirth of the human body.”  The word reflects classic Orwellian double-speak, insofar as dissolving a corpse in chemicals that can then be flushed down the drain is by no stretch of the imagination a “rebirth” of anything.  (I did not even find the word in the copy of “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” I keep close by my writing desk.)  Still, labeling this procedure with a word known to very few outside the industry that apparently coined it, gives it a level of respectability and acceptance it likely would not enjoy were it described for what it really is. 

This process of dissolving corpses and then simply disposing of the resulting “brown-green tinted liquid” is currently being studied by the European Union Commission for approval in Scotland, Belgium, and presumably elsewhere in Europe.  Already a handfull of states in the U.S., including Florida and Minnesota, have approved the process.  According to Sandy Sullivan, described in a December 2009 New York Times article on resomation as the “managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a resomation machine,” the liquid resulting from a resomation is best simply “sent .  .  . to the water treatment plant.”  And, folks, this is not a science fiction movie being described and quoted here; it’s the real world.

72 comments Add your comment

Mrs. Norris

July 14th, 2010
6:31 pm

Kudos to Stranger in a Strange Land, LeeH1 and Arlo; You make me smile. And thank you David S for pointing out how the waste “treatment” plant is a part of our water supply, seeing as how some think I’m obtuse (a word I find most pretentious). Anyway, yes, I’m quite aware that the water I flush down my toilet finds its way into my tap. I’ve come to terms with that. I just don’t think I’m ready to come to terms with having the remains of the dearly departed in the water I drink. Thank you.

stranger in a strange land

July 14th, 2010
6:47 pm

MRS – have a nice day

Mrs. Norris

July 14th, 2010
7:08 pm

Well, I’ve had a couple of vodka tonics, so I think I’ll wrap it up for the evening before I make an a@# of myself but before I go I would like to say thank you Stranger and you too. Also, I like the idea of my skeleton hanging in a class room and real human skeletons go for a very high price these days, ever since the crack down on the dubious origins of Indian skeletons. Thank you Bob for a very interesting and morbid topic. Such a nice change from the usual politics. One does need a break from that. Now I’ll go to Facebook and “like” your latest blog. You all have a wonderful evening.

I-85

July 14th, 2010
8:10 pm

I have been thinking, how much will this process cost? How can anyone make an informed decision without a cost? The funeral people will find a way to jack it up. Does lack a little of the dignity of a regular type of service. The mass mailings coming out from the funeral homes is getting to be the new deal. I have given this column some good stuff, but I cannot get into this latest information. Paul Revere, one if by land two if by sea, green turtle soup, resomation, it has to be, its good for the environment, if only it was soylent green turtle soup call it and it will be the entree for me.

Hunk Williams Jr.

July 14th, 2010
9:03 pm

and what about all this sh^* about the black panthers wanting to start some sh^* at the tea parties??

better think twice….. might be a HUGE ASS MISTAKE………..

Telly B

July 15th, 2010
12:23 am

@ It’s a shame – you’re mistaken about Planned Parenthood. They don’t and have never performed abortions. They do provide information on pregnancy options however.
@ David S – thanks for the lesson on waste treatment disposal.

Scarf ace

July 15th, 2010
8:01 am

Blogs……They’re being typed……by…..PEOPLE!

If Bob Barr becomes an ex president, his library will have three books in it.

Cremation or burial is a very delicate emotional and personal decision. I think the closer we get to where a cat can turn a handle and flush us down the toilet, the closer we will get to poetic justice for all bloggers.

Burial by flush: Counter intuitive. Counter cultural. Counter clockwise.

John D

July 15th, 2010
10:16 am

Assuming this is actually as environmentally friendly as claimed (and, frankly, I have a hard time imagining that chemicals capable of rapidly dissolving bone and, according to Barr, metal, would be safe to discharge into the environment), I can’t see a problem with it.

People have a weird fetish about human remains that’s brazenly on display here.

I must admit, I suppose, that I share this fetishism to some extent, because I’ve always been a little uncomfortable in principle with the idea of being trapped in a subterrenean box.

mike

July 15th, 2010
10:16 am

And this man was an elected official for the state of Georgia. What is next? the story of the X-men running around in Georgia? No wonder people laugh at this state.

Troglodyke

July 15th, 2010
12:24 pm

It’s a shame, do you have anything intelligent to say?

I could very easily answer my own question with a pat statement such as “I doubt it, seeing as you are probably a Xtian, and they never have anything intelligent to say.” But that wouldn’t be true, since some of them actually do. The ones that actually follow Christ. But I guess you probably don’t know many of them.

How again is believing what I do about burial Communist? Oh, wait, it doesn’t have any correlation, that’s just right-wing rhetoric question number 32: “Are you a Commie?” It’s an easy trope to pop off when one has nothing intelligent to say. You did show some restraint in that you didn’t bring up Hitler or trash Obama in that particular post. Maybe you should get a medal.

I’ll be sure than no one you love or care about gets any of my organs, sir. That might increase their maturity and intelligence, and you just can’t have that. I hope they don’t die while waiting for a straight, right-wing kidney or liver. Oh, well, they probably will, because true right-wingers don’t donate organs because their religion forbids it, or because they are stupid enough to think they need them after death. Right? They are all about saving the unborn, but donate my organs? No way! That might help someone I don’t like.

As for “trash talking Xtianity,” may I remind you that Matthew had some choice things to say about public prayer? Maybe you skipped those verses.

David S

July 15th, 2010
4:34 pm

One reason religion should be injected into this is because the disposition of the body following death is not only a very personal issue, but is generally commented on in most religions. What happens within the body following death is also a religion-related manner. Yes, some of the religious comments are not at all applicable, but the morality of honoring someone’s wishes (or the immorality of violating their wishes) certainly comes into play. For instance the case of Mickey Mantle’s son going against his father’s wishes and cutting off his dad’s head and freezing it for later reconnection to a healthy body. If that isn’t an immoral act against both your father and nature, I don’t know what is.

Another consideration on the “green front” of this issue. It takes energy to create the potassium hydroxide, energy to boil the liquid, energy to “treat” the waste water, more water to clean the vessel the body is liquified in, etc. All of that contributes to CO2 and other environmental “costs.” But I am sure the folks who are promoting and making a huge profit on this trend are ignoring these issues as well.

Ed Gazvoda

July 15th, 2010
4:57 pm

Resomation(R) is a trademarked name for particular process offered by Resomation LTD. Resomation(R) is not the universal name for using water and alkali for the final disposition of human remains.

The soft remains need not go down the toilet; such would be a waste similar to incinerating a body or placing an unsterile remain in the ground. The option of placing soft remains in the sewer is a lot less noxious than spewing 96% of a body into the air.

CycledBurial returns 25-30% more of the bones than would a cremation, as no bones are incinerated in the process. The bones become pure white powder.

Burial options have not evolved for millenniums. Consumers, in general, do not spend time thinking about their final disposition options, so they accept what is readily offered.

Death should lead to a final resting place, not the beginning of an endless cycle of consumption of resources. Consider the never ending use of fuel, water, pesticides, and fertilizer used to keep burial grounds “green”. (Nitrogen, a fertilizer, consumes 2% of the world’s natural gas output.)

Burials that involve caskets, vaults, and cemetery plots require the use of vast amounts of land, concrete, metals, and wood.

A CycledBurial does require the use of water, alkali, and energy. The total cost for these materials for an average sized person is $12.50 to $25.00 depending on the type of alkali selected. The water and alkali are returned to the earth, so they are recycled. The energy usage is equivalent to that contained in about 2.5 gallons of gasoline, a savings of the equivalent of 24 gallons of gasoline compared to a cremation.

CycledLife’s CycledBurial process was designed to protect the living from prions, viruses, and bacteria. It transforms unsterile remains into hygienic remains. It consumes a tenth the fossil fuel compared with a cremation. It does not require the dedication of finite land resources. Our systems offer the most practical and sustainable means of dealing with the inevitable for the 6.8 billion people on the planet.

For consumers and funeral directors the introduction of CycledLife’s new, patent pending CycledBurial systems allows for pathogen free burial for a cost comparable to that of a cremation. http://www.CycledLife.com

John D

July 15th, 2010
6:59 pm

David said: “For instance the case of Mickey Mantle’s son going against his father’s wishes and cutting off his dad’s head and freezing it for later reconnection to a healthy body.”

That wasn’t Mickey Mantle, it was Ted Williams.
And his son was able to produce a holograph will to the effect that this is what Ted WANTED.

Now, the “will” was scrawled on a coffee-stained napkin, but stranger ones have been made.
A guy in Saskatchewan, trapped under a tractor, managed to scratch a legally-valid will into the fender before he died.

It’s on display at the University of Saskatchewan library, just in case you’re in the mood for the worst vacation ever.

It's a shame what he did to that dog

July 15th, 2010
7:26 pm

“It’s a shame, do you have anything intelligent to say?”

Yes

“As for “trash talking Xtianity,” may I remind you that Matthew had some choice things to say about public prayer? Maybe you skipped those verses.”

Oh do tell, dyke. I love it when left wingers throw out verses that they deem true all while ignoring everything else the Bible says.

“But I guess you probably don’t know many of them.”

And you know me how?

Don't forget

July 16th, 2010
12:28 am

Wow, who cares?

Mike from Shreveport

July 18th, 2010
2:56 am

Wow, so instead of eating our dead, we get to drink them. “How refreshing.”

Bob

July 20th, 2010
4:22 pm

So instead of polluting the air they will pollute the water instead with dissolved bodies???? How “green” is that????

colin richards

July 21st, 2010
1:34 am

First of all, I lost my daughter 10 years ago and there is no pleasantness involved in this decision whatsoever. It is HORRIFIC no matter what. Second of all, writers like this guy are just trying to get visceral reaction out of people in order to have his article read and reacted to. Whether or not this ever happens does not matter to him. Any psychologist will tell you FEAR is the best way to get a reaction of of humans and influence them. That is why this guy and media outlets like FOX news and Hitler used FEAR to control the population. When someone is trying to invoke fear in you, I suggest you try educating yourself and looking into facts instead of allowing emotions to rule you. Unless you are weak emotionally and intellectually, in which case you have no choice.

Time's up...thanks for playing!

July 21st, 2010
3:48 am

I appreciate the comments of Stranger in a Strange Land, LeeH1, Arlo, Mrs. Norris and especially the information and level-headed discussion of David S….
Trog: It’s a shame’s commie remark was a reference to your profit remark about the funeral industry.

LeeH1: the lifegem option (VERY expensive) uses only a tiny amount of the remains, so there is still the majority of the body (ashes) to deal with.

There is another option, though it is also expensive and requires prior cremation also. There is a company that provides interment in a very useful and environmentally helpful way. The entire ash remains are mixed into a special concrete and poured into a form to create a portion of an artificial reef. The reef is placed during a ceremony at sea (for family to attend) and becomes a basis for the repopulation by natural reef inhabitants. This creates a useful, dignified and less objectionable “disposal” in my humble opinion.

I disagree with those who stated that this column was inane or a fear tactic…like most of us, the author has strong opinions on the matter and expressed same; he has that right. He also inspired debate and thought (by some at any rate) This is only my 3rd column of his I have read, just ran across him tonight while looking for 2nd Amendment info for a paper I am writing.

As for my personal queasiness…instead of the possible toxic soup they reccommend using to accomplish this “liquification” I will ask my family to opt for something that doesn’t return to the water supply. I don’t relish the idea of setting in an urn on a shelf either. I prefer the option we chose for my aunt. Standard funeral for family closure, cremation and them remains buried under a newly planted tree. Full circle….
Stranger… you grok? (inside joke)

Ed Gazvoda

July 21st, 2010
12:55 pm

“Soylent Green is people!” This quote could be used incorrectly to decribe a CycledBurial, the incineration of humans, or the burying of the dead in the ground. All three of the options reduce the likelihood that the dead will be directly consumed by their survivors.

CycledLife, http://www.CycledLife.com, has introduced CycledBurial. CycledBurial(TM) is a hygienic burial. It allows for a burial without the necessity of incurring the cost of a coffin, vault, or cemetery plot. Bob, your remains could be placed under a tree. There would be 25-30% more of your bones, which would not be lost to fire, so you can go full circle, as desired. As your bones would not have been baked for 2 hours at 1,600 degrees F, they will be useful to the tree, not inert matter the result of cremation, in the form of calcium phosphate.

On our site you will see why our option is better for the living than either cremation or burial.

Having witnessed cremation, seen decomposed bodies, and watched a CycledBurial process, I am of the opinion that there is no form of final disposition that is not disturbing.

When your time is up, may you rest in peace knowing you made an informed decision about how best to dispose of your body. CycledLife’s website offers a comparison of the final disposition options. It is not hard to find research on the harm caused by both cremation and unsterile burials.

Ed Gazvoda

July 22nd, 2010
3:10 pm

Bob wrote: So instead of polluting the air they will pollute the water instead with dissolved bodies???? How “green” is that????

Clearly, you have been misinformed. Let me set you straight.

The soft remains are pathogen free. They do not pollute the water. Whereas an unsterile body placed in the ground does pollute the ground and introduces bacteria and viruses, possibly prions to the groundwater.

When Bob’s time is up, may he rest in peace knowing he made an informed decision about how best to dispose of his body- one that actually achieves his goals. Though, if he ignorantly choses cremation, it may seem a fitting ending for Bob Barr to end up as hot air.

CycledLife’s website, http://www.CycledLife.com, offers a comparison of the final disposition options.

Ed Gazvoda

July 22nd, 2010
3:32 pm

Bob Barr has what he refers to as “The Barr Code”
Where experience, logic and ideas trump political correctness and the status quo every time

In the case of CycledBurial(TM), the Barr Code must not apply. Obviously, he has no experience with this process. He is illogical in explaining why cremation would fit his stated goal of going “full circle”. Is not America the land of ideas? What is politically incorrect about solving problems with American ingenuity? How does supporting an archaic method of disposition show that one is willing to trump the status quo? Obviously, he flushed down the toilet his Barr Code, prior to writing this blog.