Water cremation brings eco-friendly alternative to funeral industry

    Apart from getting more expensive, the funeral industry has remained somewhat unchanged for the past 25 years.

    While traditional fire cremations remain, a cheaper, eco-friendlier alternative has arrived in Hobart. 

    Water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, has gained popularity overseas, but until now, only two facilities in Australia have offered a service similar to the process.

    A silver tube-like machine used for water cremation in a garage.
    Water Cremation is an end-of-life process that breaks down the body in a stainless steel drum over 10 hours. (ABC News: Maren Preuss)

    Process leaves more ashes of loved ones 

    Water cremation involves placing a body inside a stainless steel drum, filling it with a water and alkaline solution and heating it to approximately 90 degrees Celsius for about 10 hours.

    At the end, only the bones are left, which are then turned into ashes, producing up to 30 per cent more ashes than a fire cremation.

    A fire cremation uses about 36 kilograms of gas to heat the body to around 1000C. It also requires a coffin for the process, unlike a water cremation.

    Luke Cripps and Brendan Cooper are co-founders of the recently opened Alluvium Water Cremations in Hobart. They said they wanted to bring a much greener and comparatively cheap alternative to Tasmania.

    “Water cremation produces around 90 per cent less direct emissions compared to a fire cremation,” Mr Cooper said.

    “The only energy that we use for our process is the power to heat the water, which over time we will offset with solar or something similar.”

    Over 70 per cent of Australians who died last year chose a fire cremation. 

    “To be able to find a process that replicates what people want out of a cremation but avoid needing to use that level of fossil fuels every single time is pretty staggering,” Mr Cripps said.

    There are two other facilities — in Queensland and New South Wales — that offer a similar service, but Mr Cripps said Alluvium is the first regulator-approved water cremation facility in the country.

    We need to talk about death, end-of-life doula says 

    Australia is heading towards a situation called ‘peak death’, as the baby boomer generation ages.

    Rebecca Lyons is an end-of-life doula and independent funeral director.

    She wants more people to start planning their own funeral.

    A dark-haired woman in colourful geometric dress, glasses and dark lipstick stands next to wooden coffin, looks at camera
    Rebecca Lyons says Australians need to have more conversations about end-of-life wishes.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

    “We need a reminder that talking about death won’t kill you, and none of us are getting out of here alive,” Ms Lyons said.

    “We know that we’ve had about 169,301 deaths registered in 2019, and [with] the figures that are being modelled at the moment, that could increase by about 156 per cent over the next 25 to 30 years,” she said.

    “All these people are going to die and not even half of them have done a plan on how they want to die and where they want to die, how they want to be treated. We need to start having these conversations”.

    “You can make a funeral whatever it’s going to be and it doesn’t always have to fit the mould,” Ms Lyons said. 

    More options needed amid ‘funeral poverty’

    A wooden coffin with chalkboard on top that says 'death in a word'.
    A report from Australian Seniors has found people are increasingly considering the environment during end-of-life planning.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

    The costs associated with dying have increased by more than 20 per cent since 2019, and more people are considering the environment during end-of-life planning, according to a report by Australian Seniors.

    The cost of a burial funeral is much higher than a cremation, increasing from an average of $9055 in 2019 to $11,039 in 2023, the report says.

    Cremation funerals also increased on average during the same period from $6334 to $8045.

    “Funeral poverty is real and things are becoming prohibitive for people,” Ms Lyons said.

    “We need options that have a bit of a social justice bend that can be a little cheaper or an alternative so that people don’t have to just make a financial choice.” 

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