Al HariJodi LabunKate Taylor-Young

Available now

1 (888) 712-5337

Alkaline Hydrolysis in Saskatchewan: Questions and Answers

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
March 4th 2024 - 8 minute read
Facebook Twitter Linkedin
Learn about Alkaline Hydrolysis (also referred to by some companies as Aquamation or Water Cremation) in Saskatchewan, including the process, the cost, and the history of this disposition method in the province.

For many years, burial and cremation have been the predominant funeral arrangements for Saskatchewan residents. However, alkaline hydrolysis (also referred to as Aquamation by Eirene and Water Cremation in some cases) is a relatively new disposition option, became available in the province in 2012 (click for more info). It is a water-based method of final disposition that uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis to reduce remains to base elements. Learn more about alkaline hydrolysis and its status in Saskatchewan below.

What is alkaline hydrolysis?

Alkaline Hydrolysis uses a chemical process to speed up the decomposition of human remains. It is also used for animal disposition as well. When a body is buried, it is subjected to the same chemical process in the earth. However, alkaline hydrolysis accelerates this from years to about 24 hours. Alkaline hydrolysis uses heat, pressure, water, and alkali (potassium hydroxide) instead of flames to break down organic materials in a body, leaving bone fragments. As with cremation, these fragments (which are reduced to dust) are referred to as "ashes." Alkaline hydrolysis produces about 20 to 30 per cent more than cremation.

While you will often see this form of water-based cremation referred to by its scientific name, "alkaline hydrolysis," it is also variously referred to as aquamation, green cremation, bio cremation, water cremation, liquid cremation, flameless cremation, chemical cremation, and resomation.

Alkaline hydrolysis process

The alkaline hydrolysis process begins by placing the body in a stainless steel vessel. The vessel is filled with water and alkali (potassium hydroxide), an odourless, off-white flaky, or lumpy solid. The quantity of alkali used varies depending on body characteristics (e.g., height), but the ratio for the solution is approximately 95 per cent water and five percent alkali.

The vessel heats the water solution to high temperatures (200 to 320 F / 93 to 160 C) and creates agitation to prevent boiling. This helps break down organic material faster. Compounds in the body are reduced to essential organic components (e.g., fats are reduced to salts) and dissolved into the water.

The process results in two byproducts - a sterile, green-brown liquid and bone fragments. Metal implants that are not removed beforehand will also remain.

Next, the liquid is released from the vessel as municipal wastewater, and the remains and equipment are rinsed with fresh water. Metals are rinsed, sterilized, and removed using a magnet or sieve and recycled or donated.

Finally, the bone fragments are pulverized into a fine, white, or tan powder, placed in an urn, and returned to the family. The entire process typically takes between six to 20 hours.

Where does water cremation take place?

The process of alkaline hydrolysis is conducted by a licensed facility. It contains the equipment necessary to reduce a body to ashes using the water-based process. Several licensed hydrolysis facilities operate in Saskatchewan.

A brief history of alkaline hydrolysis

Alkaline hydrolysis has been around for more than a century. It was initially developed by a farmer named Amos Herbert Hanson in 1888. He used the process to turn animal carcasses into fertilizer. This was later adapted for lab use to dispose of contaminated animal bodies.

The first commercial alkaline hydrolysis machine for human remains was at the Albany Medical College in 1993. It was used to dispose of cadavers. This continued to be the predominant use of alkaline hydrolysis in medical schools and hospitals for several years.

From the early 2000s to the present day, alkaline hydrolysis has been approved and legalized for use on human remains across many jurisdictions in North America.

Alkaline Hydrolysis is now legal in five Canadian provinces and territories and 19 states in the U.S., with pending legalization in several other parts of North America. The technology is also legal for use on pets in all U.S. states and all Canadian provinces and territories.

Alkaline hydrolysis in Canada

Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in five Canadian provinces and territories: Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories.

It is offered by several funeral providers in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. However, no locations are offering the service yet in the Northwest Territories, and there is only one location currently in Newfoundland and Labrador. (See more about the legal status of alkaline hydrolysis in Canada).

Alkaline hydrolysis in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan was the first province in Canada to legalize alkaline hydrolysis for humans in 2012. The first funeral home in the province to offer the service was Gray's Funeral Chapel in Prince Albert.

Early into its legalization, owner/manager Drew Gray began looking into installing a crematorium for his business. However, the funeral home could not install a crematorium retort on the property due to zoning laws. As such, it would have needed to move to an industrial area to operate cremation equipment. Instead, Gray began researching alternatives and stumbled on alkaline hydrolysis.

According to a 2016 article from the National Post, he estimated that approximately 80 per cent of his clients choose alkaline hydrolysis over cremation.

Since then, several other providers have begun offering alkaline hydrolysis services to people and pet owners across the province.

What is bio cremation?

Gray's Funeral Chapel refers to the process of alkaline hydrolysis and bio cremation on its website. Bio cremation is one of the synonyms for alkaline hydrolysis, which is a scientific term, that is used by various service providers in Canada and the U.S. The term "aquamation" and "flameless cremation" are also in common usage, as are other alkaline hydrolysis synonyms.

Is alkaline hydrolysis sustainable?

Alkaline hydrolysis and cremation are generally viewed as more sustainable processes than burials. This is because burials are more labour-intensive, use more resources, and have a longer-lasting environmental impact. For example, it takes between six and 20 hours on average for alkaline hydrolysis to reduce organic matter to bone fragments. However, this process can take several decades in a grave where the soil is generally alkaline.

Alkaline hydrolysis vs flame cremation

The alkaline hydrolysis process has no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury, no burning of fossil fuels and uses less energy than flame-based cremation.

Cremation requires large amounts of energy to reach the high temperatures (approximately 760 to 980 Celsius) needed to incinerate a body. Alkaline hydrolysis temperatures are much lower (approximately 160 Celsius). Cremation (where is the heat produced by fire) emits carbon monoxide, byproducts from embalming chemicals (e.g., formaldehyde), and mercury from dental fillings. However, alkaline hydrolysis has no direct emissions of harmful gases, and the liquid byproduct is released as municipal wastewater.

The alkaline hydrolysis process also uses less water than a household uses in one day (source: USGS.gov). This includes the water used for the process of alkaline hydrolysis and the freshwater rinsing of the final remains and stainless steel vessel.

How much does alkaline hydrolysis cost?

The cost of alkaline hydrolysis varies depending on the funeral provider and what services are included in the funeral package.

Typically, alkaline hydrolysis is more expensive than cremation, but the price difference is not drastic. A package price for alkaline hydrolysis typically ranges from $2000 to $5000+. Cremation packages can cost anywhere from $800 to over $4500.

Prices can be reduced by opting for simple or direct services. Direct alkaline hydrolysis involves processing the body within days of death and forgoing additional, more expensive services such as a viewing, visitation, procession, etc.

Who is the most famous person that chose alkaline hydrolysis?

Bishop Demond Tutu opted for alkaline hydrolysis as a final disposition method. His body was hydrolyzed after he died in December 2021.

More alkaline hydrolysis information

Our article Understanding Alkaline Hydrolysis provides extensive and in-depth answers to any alkaline hydrolysis questions you may have.

Related funeral content that may be of use to you include:

How to make arrangements

You can plan alkaline hydrolysis with Eirene. For questions, please email our team at support@eirene.ca. You can also reach us 24/7 by using our contact page.

For information about our service areas please visit our locations page.

Here For You — Whenever You Need Us