Desmond Tutu’s Funeral Featured Plain Pine Coffin and Aquamation

Jan 3, 2022 | 0 comments

Wood Caskets

Wood caskets built by Fathers Building Futures

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s funeral made several environmentally supportive statements. His coffin was a plain unvarnished pine box with rope handles. He requested no extravagant spending on the services. And he taught the world about alkaline hydrolysis, a water-based disposition method also known as Aquamation. It was his requested disposition method, before his remaining bones were interred in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.

Tutu campaigned for gentler stewardship of the Earth and fought against climate change. His choice of Aquamation, which uses a fraction of the energy used in flame-based cremation, prompted widespread coverage of this disposition technology. News outlets worldwide, including NPR, The Washington Post, and The Guardian in the UK, ran stories explaining the process.

A natural gas-powered flame cremation of an average size person generates 532 pounds of CO², a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Multiply that figure by more than 1.8 million, the number of people in the U.S. cremated in 2020, and you’ve got a significant carbon footprint!

Alkaline hydrolysis is essentially an accelerated version of what takes place during natural decomposition. Water, elevated temperature, and alkalinity are used to speed the process of reducing tissue to the basic building blocks of life: nucleic acids, proteins, lipids (fats) and glycans (sugars). The process generates a sterile coffee colored liquid, free of DNA, RNA and any drugs that were in the body. The remaining fluid, pH-balanced to be slightly alkaline, is beneficial for municipal sewage systems, which regularly deal with acidic effluent.

Some interesting facts:

  • Alkaline hydrolysis uses up to 90% less energy than flame-based cremation.
  • Unlike flame-based cremation, these systems generate zero greenhouse gasses.
  • Alkaline hydrolysis returns 20% more cremated remains to the family than flame cremation.
  • When given a choice with no price difference, 80% of families choose alkaline hydrolysis over flame cremation.
Low Pressure Alkaline Hydrolysis System

Low pressure alkaline hydrolysis system from Bio-Response Solutions.

There are two types of alkaline hydrolysis systems: high-temperature/pressure and low-temperature/pressure. Both can handle a body of up to 500 pounds. The body is placed in the tank, where the tissue totally dissolves. Remaining bones are processed like the bones left after fire cremation, in a cremulator (basically a blender for bones). Both systems take longer to process a body than fire-based cremation.

High-temperature Aquamation systems operate at 300 degrees Fahrenheit at 65 PSI (pounds per square inch). It takes 4-6 hours to process the body with this system, enabling a funeral home to handle seven bodies every two days. Low-temperature systems operate at 200 degrees at atmospheric pressure – no added PSI. It takes 14-16 hours to complete the process with this system, enabling a funeral home to handle three bodies every two days.

Learn more about alkaline hydrolysis in this Family Plot Blog post. If you’d like to get a brochure about Aquamation, email your mailing address to You can also learn more about alkaline hydrolysis and which states in the US allow the process at

Watch This Video!

This video with Samantha Sieber of BioResponse Solutions shows how the alkaline hydrolysis system works.


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