Courtesy Jill GreensethHere at Science Buzz, we strive to keep all y’all Buzzketeers surfing on crest of the new wave, sliding down the cutting edge of the razor that is the future, and, um, up to date on new things. With this in mind, I thought it was important to inform you of the latest, greatest craze in dealing with your useless dead body: alkaline hydrolysis. For everyone already in the know, please just put your heads down on your desks, and wait quietly while the rest of us catch up. Thank you.
Alkaline hydrolysis is, if possible, even cooler than it sounds, and as simple as ABC, but I’ll walk you through it from the beginning. So… You’re born (embarrassing!), you go to prom (best night ever), you live your life (boooring), and then you die. And then what? You’ve got this dead body on your hands, and it’s too big for the garbage disposal in the sink, and Goodwill won’t accept them any more, so what are you supposed to do? Bury it? Yeah, if you’re some kind of chump. Oh, hey, why not bury your body? People have only been doing that for, like, thousands of years. Please. You wouldn’t wear sunglasses from a thousand years ago—everybody would know how lame you are—so why bury your lousy body like they would then? What else…a Viking funeral, maybe? Well, I hate to break it to you, but there some things are just too cool, and most people can’t pull them off. For your average dead Joe, trying to go out with a Viking funeral would be like…like wearing an Armani suit to your fish gutting job—not the right fit.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, technology has come through and offered a fancy new way to go: dissolving your body in lye. One minute you’re a sad, dead old man lying on a slab, and a few hours later you’re a “brown, syrupy residue” ready to be dumped out on the street. This is alkaline hydrolysis.
Basically what happens is this: you’re put into a large tank filled with a lye solution, heated up to 300 degrees, and submitted to about 60 pounds of pressure per square inch (about the same as the pressure in a bicycle tire). It’s like being in a pressure cooker, kind of, but a little more intense. What’s left when you’re done cooking are a few little crunchy solids, and a “coffee-colored liquid with the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell,” which can be safely poured down the drain (or toilet, depending on your preference). Or maybe you could have it misted over the guests at your funeral service. Anything’s possible!
Alkaline hydrolysis is currently only legal—in medical facilities—in Minnesota (yes!) and New Hampshire, but some folks are pushing to have it become a legal process at funeral homes around the country. It’s environmentally cleaner, they argue, than cremation, and doesn’t require the physical space of burial. It would hardly be the grossest thing dumped down our drains, too, as blood and spillover embalming fluid are routinely flushed away at funeral homes. Opponents point out that it’s kind of yucky. Also, some believe that the process is an “undignified” way to treat a human body. To this I say, “True, sir, true, but you know what else is undignified? Belly shirts. And we’ve gotten used to those. Some people even like them.”
So, yeah, get used to it folks. The future is now, and it’s brown, syrupy, and smells like a litter box.