About a week ago the AP wrote about a new, ecologically-friendly alternative to burial or cremation: dissolving bodies in lye. The process, which is called alkaline hydrolysis, yields a coffee-colored liquid and dry bone residue, similar in volume to that of cremation remains. Although the liquid smells heavily of ammonia, with a permit, it can pretty much be poured down the drain, taking up less space than burial, and producing less carbon emissions than cremation.

You've got to admit that there’s something more spectacular about going out in flames rather than being eaten away by lye. But I would guess that many of the same people who opt for cremation (and that number is growing by an average of 1.05 percent a year) accept that it’s performed in an industrial setting and have no religious sentiment towards the process, and so would just as well opt for dissolution. One potential problem, raised by a funeral director to the AP, is that alkaline hydrolysis is more expensive than cremation. Luckily this one director said he would charge customers about the same price.

Some interesting stats. According to Cremation Association of North America, the final 2005 statistics for percentage of deaths cremated (number of cremations) are:

  1. Hawaii, 66.32% (5,961 cremations)
  2. Nevada, 65.08% (12,815)
  3. Washington, 63.99% (29,447)
  4. Oregon, 63.74% (19,855)
  5. Arizona, 59.55% (26,864)
  6. Montana, 59.04% (5,050)
  7. Alaska, 57.80% (1,820)
  8. Colorado, 55.80% (16,718)
  9. Maine, 53.44% (6,847)
  10. California, 52.06% (120,883)

Bottom five states, percentage of deaths cremated (number of cremations):

  1. Alabama, 9.47% (4,431 cremations)
  2. Mississippi, 9.88% (2,820)
  3. Tennessee, 10.50% (5,996)
  4. Kentucky, 12.29% (4,847)
  5. Louisiana, 15.10% (6,346)

I’m a little surprised that California isn’t higher up on the list, to be honest. But I suppose I shouldn’t be given that the state has cities like Colma, where the buried or mailboxed outnumber the living. In December Colma’s mayor told The New York Times, "We have 1,500 aboveground residents and 1.5 million underground."  

"Aboveground residents."

--Francesca Mari