Water cremation in the UK – a step closer?

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. In 2023, the company remains independent, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Part of the business’s role is ensuring the customers and the wider public are informed regarding funeral industry updates. […]

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Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors staff member Becky

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex in 1855. In 2023, the company remains independent, and now has a further three offices across the county in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Part of the business’s role is ensuring the customers and the wider public are informed regarding funeral industry updates. This week, the news that Resomation – also known as ‘water cremation’ – is a step closer to becoming an option in the UK. Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, shares what we know so far…

We’ve blogged several times before on Resomation – sometimes referred to as ‘water cremation’ or alkaline hydrolysis – which is a method of human disposal available in various countries outside the UK for several years already. Earlier this week, it was announced that permission has been granted for it to take place in the UK for the first time, so we thought it was time to provide an update, and consider what this means for the funeral industry in general.

Some details from reports are slightly lacking – namely, when and exactly where Resomation might be available. However, the key issue which has previously prevented Resomation from being possible in the UK is approval from water authorities, and this seems to have been resolved by our industry colleagues at Co-op Funeralcare.

Alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t involve a flame. Instead, a liquid is used to ensure that the Deceased person’s body is broken down. Once the process is complete, two ‘waste products’ are produced – a fine powder, which comes about as the Resomation will leave the person’s bones intact, so these are crushed resulting in a substance similar to cremated remains, and can be returned to the funeral’s applicant. The other is a liquid runoff, which has been the previous cause for concern.

According to The Guardian, Northumbrian Water has, ‘granted approval for the resulting water to be sent back into the drainage network’. This would indicate that the first UK Resomator will be located in the north east of England, however, this article by the BBC indicates that there will be more than one location available. On the basis of this statement, it would seem to me that either there is more than one Resomator planned within Northumbrian Water’s network, or there is a favourable application pending with another water company.

In addition to disposal issues presenting earlier concerns, there has been the fact that, whilst technically not illegal, Resomation isn’t also necessarily by default legal in the UK. As several news articles have correctly pointed out, the Cremation Act has not changed since it was implemented in 1902. Much of this is due to technology only advancing fairly recently, meaning that alternatives to standard burial or cremation have been developed. So we would anticipate that, in addition to water boards giving approval, there may also need to be changes to the letter of the law before Resomation can actually be offered to customers. This would seem to be supported by the fact that no timescales are mentioned by the Co-op or any of the media coverage, even in the vague sense such as, ‘from 2025’.

At Freeman Brothers, we believe firmly in customers having as much choice as possible, and being able to make the choice that is best for them and their circumstances, so we welcome change such as this once it is indeed available. We very much hope to be able to find out when this option will be possible, and offer it to those for whom it is appropriate. Another possibility is that, should Resomation become available, other alternatives to burial and cremation may also be realised here in the UK, such as cryomation, and human composting.

The Co-op’s own press release regarding Resomation can be read here.  

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

July 5, 2023

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