desmond tutu opts for water cremation as final act for the planet


when revered archbishop and anti-apartheid activist desmond tutu died on december 26th, 2021, he left behind instructions for his body to undergo an eco-friendly burial process called aquamation. instead of a traditional cremation with flames, aquamation—or ‘alkaline hydrolysis’—uses a heated solution of water and strong alkali that dissolves the tissues of the deceased body over a 3-4 hour process. the remaining bones are then heated to white ash and placed in an urn for the family to keep or scatter as they wish, much like a typical cremation.

aquamation: the eco-friendly alternative to cremation
image via CBC news (main image by herbert goetsch via unsplash)



what are the environmental benefits?


aquamation isn’t totally new—alkaline hydrolysis was first patented in 1888 in the US as a way to process animal carcasses—but it is gaining popularity as a more environmentally friendly end-of-life option.


according to UK-based company resomation, water cremation reduces greenhouse gases by approximately 35% when compared to flame cremation. the firm also says that aquamation produces no airborne mercury emissions from dental amalgam fillings.


it’s worth noting that aquamation is still only legal in certain countries. the process also conflicts with some religious views such as islam and judaism, both of which forbid cremation of the deceased. however, as people look to reduce their impact on the environment even after death, could more of us opt for aquamation in the future?


see more alternative burial processes on designboom here, including the world’s first living coffin made from mushroom mycelium,  a death care facility that turns deceased human bodies into compost, and shaina garfield’s macramé coffin.