It’s thought the process, called resomation – also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis will be initiated later in the year and used as a “sustainable alternative” to traditional burials and cremations.
Its introduction in the UK will mark the first time in more than 120 years that a new alternative to burial or cremation will be widely available for funerals since the Cremation Act in 1902.
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The practice consists of the deceased being enclosed in a biodegradable pouch then placed in a container filled with pressurised water and a small amount of potassium hydroxide.
This quickly converts tissue and cells into a watery solution of micromolecules, with one cycle taking approximately four hours.
Soft bones remain and these are dried then reduced to a white powder, which can then be returned to relatives in an urn.
Research suggests that resomation is a more sustainable option as it does not release toxic gases, air pollutants or polluting fluids.
Cremating a body leads to the release of carbon dioxide and potentially toxic gases while burials can lead to the risk of groundwater contamination.
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The company said it will be working with sustainability experts and academia to further validate existing research during its initial regional pilot and locations will be announced later this year with the intention to expand the service to all Co-op clients.
It is understood that resomation is not illegal but will be subject to compliance with relevant health, safety and environment regulations.
Professor Douglas Davies, an anthropologist, theologian and death rites expert at Durham University, said: “The rise in ecological and sustainability concerns over the past decade combined with a desire to be part of nature or laid to rest in a natural setting, means more people are considering the environmental impact of their body once they die.
“The reduced carbon footprint that may come with Resomation compared with other forms of body disposal, means it will no doubt be of interest to many people as the practise is increasingly made available in the UK.”
Gill Stewart, managing director of The Co-op Funeralcare said introducing “innovative and sustainable options” for clients is “an absolute priority”.
“Up until now choice has been limited to burial or cremation,” she said.
“We’ve seen from the rapid uptake of newer funeral options such as direct cremation, that when choice in the funeral market is broadened, this is only a positive thing both for the bereaved and for those planning ahead for their own farewell.”
Julian Atkinson, director of resomation service Kindly Earth, added: “Throughout the 30 years I have been involved in the funeral industry, I have always been passionate about people having access to more sustainable end of life arrangements, and we are encouraged to see that many members of the public are conscious of reducing the carbon footprint, even after death.”