The pioneer of resomation, 53, has devised an environmentally sound alternative to burial and cremation
The Observer, Sunday 4 April 2010
Death does not become us – in ecological terms. More than 600,000 people die in the UK each year, all but a tiny proportion opting for a (single-use) wooden or MDF coffin. Some 70-75% are dispatched via cremation, which has a big carbon footprint, not to mention the toxic chemicals created by the heating process and the harmful mercury vapour generated by incinerating tooth fillings. Meanwhile, burial takes up space and resources, and can pollute the ground with formaldehyde.
"We urgently need a non-burial alternative that achieves what cremation achieves," says Scottish biochemist Sandy Sullivan. He's devoting his time on earth to convincing us that his Resomation system, an "accelerated version of the body decomposition hydrolysis found in nature", is the answer. The Resomator is a pressurised chamber that liquefies rather than burns (the unit is made by a family engineering firm in Leeds). The body is immersed in a diluted alkaline solution and rapidly heated; within three hours it is turned to white ash. The Resomator has a carbon footprint four times smaller than that of a typical cremation process, there are no dioxin emissions, amalgam mercury is safely recycled, the only coffin is a transfer casket (used many times), and expensive medical implants (such as hip joints) are recovered in pristine, reusable condition.
The UK Cremation Society has changed its 134-year-old charter to allow Resomation to be adopted, although he's still awaiting "final approval" from the government. "Once they get over the 'ick' factor, people seem to get behind it," says Sullivan. "They should have this ethical choice."