Resomation, A Third-Way Alternative To Cremation Or Burial

Another more environmentally friendly option for what to do with the dearly departed has been legalized in a few U.S. states, with several European countries now considering it as well.

Founder of Resomation Ltd. Sandy Sullivan next to a "resomator"
Benjamin Dürr

BERLIN — It takes several years for a human body to decompose in soil. But it takes a resomator just three hours to do the job. Resomation, or the dissolution of a corpse in a chemical solution, is now widely seen as a faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation and burial.

The body is placed in the resomater, which resembles a cremation oven. It is then sprayed with a solution of hot water and potassium hydroxide. High temperature and air pressure speed up decomposition, and all that is left at the end is bone ash and — as explained by — a sterile liquid that is returned to the water cycle. The bone ash is placed in an urn.

Up to now, resomation has been approved in a few U.S. states and Canada. The Netherlands and Belgium may soon be the first European countries to allow it. In both countries relevant changes to legislation are being discussed. Germany allows only cremation and burial.

Resomation (also called alkaline hydrolysis) can be compared to the natural process that takes place after burial, supporters say. "Experience also shows that loved ones like the association with water," says John Heskes, an innovation manager at Yarden, a Dutch funeral care company. In terms of the funeral service, it differs little from a service given for someone who has been interred or cremated. The white powder remains of the deceased can be strewn or kept.

Backers also hail resomation as being more environmentally friendly than cremation. "We've been seeing growing demand for and interest in sustainability as far as arrangements for the dead go," Heskes says. That's why Yarden committed itself to finding an alternative to cremation and burial. In the Netherlands, the firm offers funeral services, insurance and other services nationwide and is a major lobbyist for the legislative change.

The parliament in The Hague will be taking up the matter soon. Parliament member Foort van Oosten belongs to the governing People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), of which Prime Minister Mark Rutte is also a member. Rutte has asked the minister of the interior to examine the possibility of liberalizing funerary legislation.

Independent of the debate in the Netherlands, the topic is also under discussion in Belgium. Liesbeth Homans, the interior affairs minister in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, is thinking about a similar change to the law.

Undertakers in Germany are critical of resomation. Oliver Wirthmann, general manager of the Board of German Funerary Culture in Düsseldorf, says the method is a pseudo funerary form and a mere marketing trick. "The chemical dissolution of a dead body is not desirable from a moral, religious or grief-psychology point of view," he says.

Burial and cremation have existed worldwide in various religions for thousands of years. Resomation, on the other hand, was developed strictly for economic reasons. Wirthmann adds that "mourning needs a place, and the chemical dissolution of the deceased does not offer that place."

Environmental experts also express doubts. "Resomation is a method that is environmently unfriendly," says Gatze Lettinga, professor emeritus for environmental technology at Wageningen University. "It uses a lot of energy, requires very aggressive chemicals, and leaves extremely dirty, alkaline wastewater." Resomators require several hundred liters of water each time they operate.

Yarden's John Heskes can't say for sure how great the demand in Belgium and the Netherlands really is for this new process. In Germany, Wirthmann says interest is very low. Only about 0.5% of families inquire about alternatives to burial or cremation.

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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