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Currently in Alberta (pursuant to the Alberta Cemeteries Act) bodies may only be disposed of by way of burial, cremation or by body donation to medical science. A new form of cremation known as alkaline hydrolysis (water or green cremation) has become a possible option in some jurisdictions.

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) defines it this way:

Alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes called water or green cremation, is a water-based dissolution process for human remains that uses alkaline chemicals, heat, pressure and sometimes agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition, leaving bone residue and a liquid. The liquid is considered a sterile wastewater and discharged with the permission of the local wastewater treatment authority and in accordance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws.

In 2010, CANA expanded its definition of cremation to include alkaline hydrolysis. This map shows where the status is accepted or under consideration in North America:

The process is not currently available in Alberta, but a citizen has petitioned her MLA to consider changes to the Alberta Cemeteries Act:

Service Alberta spokesperson Neil Levine said the province is monitoring how other Canadian jurisdictions are addressing the emerging method of water cremation. “Alkaline hydrolysis could be considered as an option during the next review of the legislation,” Levine said in an emailed statement.

Controversy Swirls around Liquid Cremation

Companies marketing the technique trumpet its low greenhouse gas emissions compared with flame crematoriums that burn natural gas. Alkaline hydrolysis uses energy primarily to heat and cool the lye—and thus emits about 80 percent less carbon dioxide—according to an estimate by TNO, an independent research and development consulting organization in the Netherlands.

Alkaline hydrolysis produces no smoke to worry about. But is the soapy soup it dumps into the sewer safe? Disease should not be a problem because the roiling lye sterilizes the organic material . . . One worry might be amount of water used in the process—about 300 gallons per corpse. Of greater concern is the high pH involved in the process, which scuttled the first California bill seeking to legalize alkaline hydrolysis.

Please contact us if you have any questions about water cremation. We will update this blog when there are new developments in Alberta.