“In a move that is set to revolutionise the way we say goodbye to loved ones, the UK’s leading funeral provider, Co-op Funeralcare, is set to pioneer the introduction of Resomation in the UK later this year. It will mark a major shift in UK funerals for more than 120 years, as the first alternative to burial or cremation since the introduction of the Cremation Act of 1902.”
In 2017, we reported an earlier refusal by Severn Trent Water to grant a trade effluent permit to Sandwell Council, which wished to operate an alkaline hydrolysis plant for the disposal of human remains, known as “Resomation®”: see Alternative cremation option ‘on hold’. However, on 24 March 2020, Resomation Ltd reported that “following a successful study, the UK’s first ‘wastewater consent to discharge’ has been granted for the water cremation process, the environmentally friendly alternative to flame cremation or burial. Yorkshire Water has granted the consent”.
No company in the UK currently offers resomation as an alternative to cremation or burial; however, the BBC reports that Co-op Funeralcare aims to be the first UK company to do so. Its managing director, Gill Stewart, told the BBC that “land for burials is running out”, and that resomation could help the industry “improve its carbon reduction targets and meet the capacity challenges of a growing population”.
Initially, says the report, resomation “will only be offered in certain locations – which are yet to be announced – with the intention of expanding it across the UK”. But that, presumably, is dependent on the company securing the necessary wastewater discharge consents.
General Synod February 2023
In written question Q103 at the Church of England General Synod in February this year, The Revd Canon Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) noted that the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu had instructed that his body should not be buried or cremated but undergo resomation (Alkaline Hydrolysis). Canon Dotchin asked the Chair of the House of Bishops whether there were: (a) any theological objections to the use of resomation; (b) any theological objections to the use of human composting; and (c) any pastoral recommendations for the reverent care of human bodies, regardless of the manner of their disposal.
Replying on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishop, the Bishop of Lichfield stated
“There has not been any formal theological consideration of either resomation – whereby a body is dissolved over a matter of hours in a bath of lye or caustic soda and hot water, leaving bone residue behind that can be reduced to ‘ashes’, or human composting – where the natural decomposition process that takes place after burial is reduced to a matter of months using the body’s naturally occurring bacteria to turn it into soil.
The Liturgical Commission is currently working on a volume of resources that will encourage good practice in all aspects of funeral ministry. Noting that Canon Dotchin is the Synod’s representative on the ecumenical Churches’ Funerals Group, the Bishop suggested that Canon Dotchin might assist in organising a small consultation including members of the Faith and Order and Liturgical Commissions to look at this question in more detail and with ecumenical input.
Theological matters aside, there are two entirely separate issues here: whether resomation is a legal method of disposing of human remains and whether, as implied above, the necessary wastewater discharge consents will be forthcoming for each of the locations at which the process is sited.
As we noted earlier, the term “water cremation” is clearly an oxymoron and reference to the 1902 Cremation Act has confused some commentators. Environmental legislation has moved on in the last 120 years. However, there is probably work to be done to convince the public and some faith communities – and the recipients of the process liquids will be the water companies, whose public image is particularly poor at present.
David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer
Update: The Law Commission is currently recruiting lawyers to work on a project relating to alternative funeral methods.