Proponents note that traditional cremation is trending upward in the U.S. In 2015 more people in this country were burned than put in the ground for the first time, according to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association. This fad is driven in part by price: A fire cremation usually costs less than a third of a burial, according to an industry report by market research firm IBISWorld. It also saves on some natural resources; a burial requires land as well as the stone, steel, cloth and wood used to make the casket and gravestone.
Some see alkaline hydrolysis—versions of which go by the names biocremation, aquamation and resomation—as the next big thing for those who want to make an environmentally friendly exit.
The technique has its origins in an 1888 patent for making fertilizer and gelatin, which describes dissolving animal parts in an alkaline solution such as potassium hydroxide. In the 1990s two researchers began disposing of lab animals this way at Albany Medical College in New York State. Their work informed the construction of the first machine that could handle a single human body, built by a company called WR2 and first used in the Mayo Clinic’s anatomical bequest program in Rochester, Minn., in 2006.