Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died recently at the age of 90 years, was outspoken about protecting the environment, giving speeches and writing articles about the need to take action to combat climate change. He had requested his body be aquamated — considered to be a greener alternative to cremation.
He has been laid to rest in Cape Town after a state funeral and a private ceremony, interred behind the pulpit from where he once denounced bigotry and racial tyranny.
What is aquamation?
Aquamation is a cremation method using water that funeral parlours are touting as environmentally friendly.
The process, also known as "alkaline hydrolysis", consists of cremation by water rather than fire.
The body of the deceased is immersed for three to four hours in a mixture of water and strong alkali-like potassium hydroxide in a pressurised metal cylinder and heated to around 150 degrees Celsius.
The process liquefies everything except for the bones, which are then dried in an oven, reduced to white dust and placed in an urn.
The water can be processed through normal wastewater treatment facilities.
According to Wikipedia, aquamation based in New South Wales is the only company to currently provide alkaline hydrolysis in Australia, with the remains being used as fertilizer on plantation forests, due to difficulty with obtaining permits from Sydney Water.
How long has it been around?
First developed in the early 1990s as a way to discard the bodies of animals used in experiments, the method was later used to dispose of cows during the mad cow disease epidemic, US-based researcher Philip R Olson says.
In the 2000s, US medical schools used aquamation to dispose of donated human cadavers, before the practice made its way into the funeral industry, he wrote in a 2014 paper.
The process is also used to dispose of animal carcasses in slaughterhouses, where it is considered to be more efficient and hygienic.
With burial space in urban areas worldwide becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, aquamation has obvious attractions.
However, like human composting — a technique of composting bodies with layers of organic material like leaves or wood chips — aquamation is still authorised only in certain countries.
Is it actually greener?
Its advocates claim water is a gentler way to go than flames, a liquid cremation consumes less energy than a conventional one and emits fewer greenhouse gases.
According to UK-based firm Resomation, aquamation uses five times less energy than fire and reduces a funeral's emissions of greenhouse gases by around 35 per cent.
Environmentally Friendly Cremations, a company based in Australia, claims water cremation "produces less than 10 per cent of the carbon emissions" of fire cremation, and a firm based in the US said the process "uses 90 per cent less energy than flame cremation".
So after Tutu’s remains lay in a simple pine casket during his funeral at St. George’s Cathedral, his body was liquefied under pressure and his bones then dried to dusty ashes in an oven.
Tutu, who died on Boxing Day aged 90, was known for his modest lifestyle.