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Funeral directors strive to bring eco-friendly burials to the UK by dissolving bodies

With the help of new technology, Claire and Rupert Callender hope to redefine funerals

Jenny Marc
Wednesday 29 June 2016 09:14 BST
Funeral directors strive to bring eco-friendly burials to the UK by dissolving bodies

Claire and Rupert Callender often travel between their office and the cemetery in the family’s forest green Volvo. But when needed, the station wagon also doubles as a hearse.

“We also don’t employ bearers to carry the coffins, we get the families to do it themselves. And we get them to lower the coffins,” Mr Callender explains, as he lists the ways in which his services differ from traditional funeral homes.

“There are all sorts of elements to a funeral service which are just not how people live their lives. So that’s what we aim to do – to eliminate all of that useless clatter.”

The husband and wife pair established the Green Funeral Company 16 years ago in Devon to do just that – offer ecological alternatives to conventional funerals. But now, they’re hoping to take their operations to the next level with the help of new technology - alkaline hydrolysis.

This a chemical way of handling human remains combines and heats water and potassium hydroxide in a pressurized tank. The body is dissolved, leaving behind both liquid and the mineral ash of bones.

The process is currently used in several countries around the world, including the United States, Australia and Canada. The Callenders want to be the first to employ the method in England.

“There are no emissions,” Mrs Callender says. “It doesn’t take any energy to run apart from maybe your lighting and heating of the space.”

But their motives go beyond the green advantages. The couple initially began exploring this option due to dissatisfaction with their own experiences at crematoriums.

“We’re being sold short. I think crematoriums have just had it their own way for too long, making vast profits and offering such a bad service, and that needs to change.”

Bringing that change to the United Kingdom, however, may take time. Although using alkaline hydrolysis is not illegal, it’s currently unregulated by the government in England or Wales, meaning those who use the technology would be doing so in unchartered territory.

“It’s something that the government needs to make happen,” explains Sandy Sullivan, founder of Resomation, the UK’s only company that manufactures equipment needed for the process. “It’s clear that the industry would like for this to be available.”

Regardless of how long it takes for the process to become mainstream, the Callenders are confident that it’s just a matter of time.

“When cremations first came on, people were like, ‘What? We’re just going to go up in smoke?’ There’s always the shock of the new and getting used to it,” Mrs Callender says.

"But we accept new technology almost every week into our lives, so why not in this area?"

Alkaline hydrolysis is one aspect of the funeral industry that is being studied by The Corpse Project, a non-profit initiative that is exploring how bodies are dealt with after death. The group’s research findings will be published later this week.

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