Science News

A Greener Funeral

Sat, 6th Oct 2001

Part of the show The Body Clock & Circadian Rhythms

Freeze drying dead bodies may be a green alternative to burial and cremation, according to last week's New Scientist. Most of us would say we were concerned about pollution - but not many people realise that even after you die your dead body is seriously bad news for the environment and could carry on polluting it for another fifty years! Crematoria, for example, use 10 gallons of oil to reduce a body to ash! And in the process, poisonous chemicals like mercury from dental fillings are released into the atmosphere. Burial isn't much better for the environment - corpses can take over fifty years to decompose and when they do, they can release toxic chemicals that pollute the groundwater supply. But now a Swedish scientist has come up with a way to freeze-dry dead bodies and turn them into powdered fertiliser!
She's tested the idea on dead pigs and cows - she immerses them in a bath of liquid nitrogen at 200 degrees below freezing and then fires ultrasound waves to break them up. It sounds a bit gruesome but what you end up with is about 20 kg of an odourless powder. It's better than leaving a corpse hanging around for half a century. Sweden is already considering adopting the new technique, which will probably cost the same amount as a cremation. It has already won the approval of the Swedish church. A Church of England Bishop told New Scientist that freeze-drying the dead probably be accepted in the UK too, as long as it was done in a dignified way.

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