Eco-friendly 'water cremations' are set to be offered in the UK after a growth in their popularity worldwide.
Co-op Funeralcare, the UK’s largest funeral provider, announced on Sunday that it will introduce the practice, called resomation – also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis – later this year.
The practice consists of the deceased being enclosed in a biodegradable pouch then placed in a container filled with pressurised water and a small amount of potassium hydroxide.
This quickly converts tissue and cells into a watery solution of micromolecules, with one cycle taking approximately four hours.
Soft bones remain and these are dried then reduced to a white powder, which can then be returned to relatives in an urn.
Research suggests that resomation is a more sustainable option as it does not release toxic gases, air pollutants or polluting fluids.
Resomation is the first alternative to burial introduced in the UK since the introduction of cremation in 1902
Gill Stewart, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare said introducing "innovative and sustainable options" for clients is “an absolute priority".
Cremating a body leads to the release of carbon dioxide and potentially toxic gases while burials can lead to the risk of groundwater contamination.
The Co-op, which arranges more than 93,000 funerals every year, said it will be working with sustainability experts and academia to further validate existing research during its initial regional pilot.
Professor Douglas Davies, an anthropologist, theologian and death rites expert at Durham University, said: "The rise in ecological and sustainability concerns over the past decade combined with a desire to be part of nature or laid to rest in a natural setting, means more people are considering the environmental impact of their body once they die."
It said pilot locations to be announced later this year with the intention to expand the service to all Co-op clients.
It has also updated the Government on its plans to make the process available in the UK and said that questions on new burial methods were raised at the Synod of Church of England earlier this year.
The practice is growing in popularity in the majority of US states, Canada, and South Africa, but burials or gas cremations remain the two options for UK families.
Anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died in 2021, is the most high-profile figure to choose resomation for his own funeral.
Its introduction in the UK will mark the first time in more than 120 years that a new alternative to burial or cremation will be widely available for funerals since the introduction of the Cremation Act in 1902.
It is understood that resomation is not illegal but will be subject to compliance with relevant health, safety and environmental regulations.
Meanwhile, the Law Commission is currently reviewing existing laws to see how they can accommodate new burial methods.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Co-op Funeralcare found that 89% of UK adults had not heard of resomation but once explained, almost a third said they would choose it for their own funeral if available.
Nearly a fifth of adults who have arranged a funeral in the last five years said they would have considered resomation for their loved one’s funeral had it been an option at the time.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...