"Pandemic: Care for those who die at home."
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Carolina Memorial Sanctuary

Photo: Carolina Memorial Sanctuary

Mills River, NC

Other Options

More than 3.4 million deaths were registered in the U.S. in 2021 (National Vital Statistics Reports). Of these, 36.6% were burials and 57.5% were fire cremations (NFDA 2021 Cremation and Burial Report). There are, however, other options.

Alkaline Hydrolysis (Water Cremation)

Note: As of 2023, Alkaline Hydrolysis is legally permitted in 28 states.

Alkaline hydrolysis (also known as water cremation, resomation, green cremation) reduces the human body to bone fragments using a process combining water, an alkali solution, heat, and pressure in a stainless steel chamber. After 4-6 hours, the sterile solution is drained, pH balanced, and the remaining solution containing salts, sugars, amino acids, and peptides, but no tissue or DNA, is recycled through the municipal wastewater treatment system or onto landscapes / gardens. The bone fragments are dried and pulverized and returned to the family. The process uses 10% of the energy of fire cremation, and the mercury from dental fillings is contained and recycled, not vaporized. Also, pacemakers need not be surgically removed prior to water cremation as they are for fire cremation

(This information was gathered from Wikipedia, Bio-Response Solutions, and NOLO.com where further information can be found.)

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Fire Cremation

Fire cremation is the combustion, vaporization, and oxidation of cadavers to basic chemical compounds, such as gases, ashes, and mineral fragments that look like dry bone. In the US, the body is placed in a crematory / retort and heated with propane, natural gas, or oil to 1600-1800 degrees F for about 1 hour per 100 lbs. of body weight. During this process, sulfur and carbon are released as gases, and the cremated remains (about 3.5% of the original body mass and consisting mostly of dry calcium phosphates, 4-6 pounds) are then ground for about 20 seconds to a fine powder. Metal implants, gold fillings, casket hardware, and the like are separated from the cremains before the pulverizing process.

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  • This information was gathered from Wikipedia and Caitlyn Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (p. 23), where further information can be found.
  • One community in Colorado sponsors open-fire cremations for local residents. Please see Open Air Cremation for further information.

Conventional Burial

In the US, a conventional burial often entails embalming, body preparation (including dressing, hair and nail care, cosmetics, restoration), enclosure in a coffin, a visitation or viewing, a religious or remembrance service, transportation in a hearse to a cemetery, and burial in a vault / grave liner in the earth. In almost all cases, these goods and services are optional. And often you can purchase or arrange for them yourself ahead of time for less money than buying them at-need from a funeral home. Please price conventional burials and discuss this subject with your family before you make the assumption that doing what you did for Grandma and Grandpa is what you should do for Mom and Dad, or yourself. Too many families go into years-long debt to bury their loved ones because that’s the way it was always done or because they didn’t want to appear uncaring, or worse cheap, to their friends and family.

The Federal Funeral Rule gives you the right to:

  • Buy only the funeral goods and services you want
  • Get price information by telephone
  • Get a written itemized price list when you visit a funeral home
  • See a written price list for caskets before you see the actual caskets
  • See a written price list for outer burial containers
  • Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay
  • Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you purchase elsewhere
  • Make funeral arrangements without embalming

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Body Donation

(See our Resource page for body donations in North Carolina and body donations in other states than North Carolina. Otherwise check with your local funeral director, medical examiner, medical school, or do a Google search.)

For the ultimate in recycling, consider donating your body (or various important parts) to improve the lives of others. Who might want you? Medical schools, graduate programs in physical therapy or forensic anthropology (body farms), schools of mortuary science, people needing replacement parts (tendons, skin, eyes, bones, organs), consumer safety programs. In addition to the satisfaction of aiding the education of health care workers, assisting in bringing justice to the dead, furthering medical research, and the like, your family may also save the money that would otherwise have been spent on body disposition. Arrangements for body donation should be made in advance of the death of the donor, and nothing takes the place of good research. If you are concerned that your organs might be sold by for-profit enterprises in the US or abroad, have any contract you sign be looked at by your attorney. And be prepared to have back-up plans.

“Cremated remains are mostly made up of salts that, in a concentrated form, are fairly hostile to plant life.”

— Suzanne Kelly
"Greening Death" p. 78