A lower Carbon Footprint for Funerals?

PATRICIA REMY – No one lesser than Desmond Tutu (d. 26/Dec/2021), known as “the conscience of the Republic of South Africa”, brought it into the mainline discussion. Before his death he specified that the method of disposition for his deceased body be Aquamation. Tutu made his decision because of ecological considerations. Aquamation has one-tenth of the carbon footprint of a conventional flame cremation.

The procedure which Tutu encouraged by his example had already been a practice in Peterborough since 2020. Both the Community Alternative Funeral & Cremation Services Ltd. and the Ashburnham Funeral Home have offered Aquamation as one of its several options for disposition. The majority of the families, who are fortunate enough to be aware of the service, have now made it their preference for their deceased loved ones..

Water based Aquamation is a method of final disposition that is available in Ontario as an alternative to earth-based burial and flame-based cremation. The scientific name for this water-based process is alkaline hydrolysis. It is the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil.

A combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity are used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials.

Here the more technical details:

  • A commonly misunderstanding is that it is actually the water which performs the breakdown during the Aquamation process, not the alkali.
  • A hydrolysis reaction is any type of reaction where bonds are cleaved by the insertion of water molecules. With alkaline hydrolysis, a base is added to water to create an alkaline environment. This changes the behavior of the water molecules, causing them to dissociate into hydrogen and hydroxide ions. The solution is only 5% alkali; 95% is water. Equally important to the process are the physical characteristics of the system (design), the continuous flow of the solution, and the heat. This all relates to collision theory and the rate and completeness of a reaction.
  • Our bodies are 65% water to begin with, along with fat, protein, minerals, and carbohydrates [which also contain water molecules. You will have heard that we are 90% water.]. During the process, fats are reduced to salts, proteins to amino acids and small peptides (which are groups of a few amino acids). Carbohydrates are reduced to sugars. Aquamation breaks down all organic materials into their most basic building blocks, so small that no trace of protein or nucleic acids (DNA/RNA) remain. The organics are dissolved into the water, which consists of 96% water and 4% amino acids, sugars, and salts by weight.
  • Once Aquamation is completed, the water is returned to the ecosystem via the normal wastewater treatment facility. The Aquamation process produces a completely sterile solution of amino acids, sugars, nutrients, salts, and soap in a water solution. These are the byproducts of natural decomposition.

Kawartha Aquamation, which is owned and operated by Community Alternative Funeral & Cremation Services Ltd., is accredited by the Green Burial Society. Tours are available.

In addition to environmental considerations, Aquamation is generally less expensive than other methods of disposition. In contrast to the regulations for cremation, no casket is required. Remains treated by Aquamation, are very similar to flame cremated remains and can be interred directly, placed in an urn, or scattered at a location important to the deceased loved one. The effluent can also be used as a fertilizer, enriching the soil, say, of Grandma’s garden or a special memorial tree.

Of interest to readers of the Greenzine, Aquamation is an example of a practical, local response to the global environmental emergency. It is also a model for local entrepreneurship. John Cunningham, owner and proprietor of the Community Alternative and Ashburnham Funeral Homes, is a representative of the fifth generation of a family involved in providing service to families in a difficult time.

John’s family settled in the Warsaw area in 1830. Although he grew up in London, Ontario, John reconnected with Peterborough when attending Trent University. After honing his craft in Toronto, John returned to Peterborough to establish the smaller of the two present locations Community Alternative on Hunter St. in December of 2004. Soon thereafter, the CAFS was awarded “Micro-Business of the Year” by The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce. The opening of a second larger location, Ashburnham Funeral Home, on Armour Rd. took place in 2011.

Local businesses exist, in the best case, in relationship to the community-at-large. John offers the inviting premises of the Ashburnham Reception Centre to serve as a locale for the rehearsals of Vintage Brass and the Peterborough Concert Band, as a performance venue for New Horizons’ bands, and as a place to hold annual meetings for various small charities and not-for-profit organizations such as the YWCA, Showplace, and the New Canadians Centre.

The Reception Centre offers complete catering services on premises managed by Tracy Ormond’s “That’s A Wrap” Catering. In addition, Tracy provides culinary preparation for “Meals On Wheels”. She has opened “The Edison Café” in the Venture North Building in downtown Peterborough. Tracy’s next project is a coffee shop in the Peterborough Clinic.

Respected readers: If you hear of a business in the City or County, which is responding locally to environmental challenges, please let us know. It is the Greenzine’s mission to support any local initiative reacting creatively to the ecological crisis.

For more information on the theme of the above article, see: and

Aquamation © 2022 by Patricia Remy in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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