In Australia, one company has recently started to sell a greener alternative. Aquamation Industries claims to be the first in the world to offer its unique answer to a cheaper, more carbon-neutral method of body disposal. Aquamation employs a process called alkaline hydrolysis, in which a body is placed in a stainless steel vat containing a 93-degree Centigrade, potassium hydroxide and water solution for four hours until all that remains is the skeleton. The bones, which are soft at that point, are then crushed, and presented to family. The residual liquid contains no DNA and the procedure only uses between 5% and 10% of the energy that cremation uses, says John Humphries, a former funeral-home director who is now the chief executive of Aquamation Industries, which launched its services in August. According to Humphries, Aquamation accelerates the processes that occur in nature. Even the residual liquid can be recycled: Humphries measures the pH after the procedure is completed. If it’s deemed too high in alkalinity he adds vinegar or citric acid to it afterwards. By that time, he says it’s safe enough to pour on the rose bushes…

In Australia, Aquamation has had a mixed response from scientists. Barry Brook, an environmental scientist from the University of Adelaide, says that any step taken toward saving the environment is a positive one. However, Short, who spoke out against cremation in 2008, is more ambivalent: “I just don’t see why it would be better than a natural [“i.e., free of embalming with a biodegradable coffin or a cloth shroud with biodegradable lining”] burial. You can be buried in a forest for the cost of almost nothing, and the trees would sequester carbon dioxide from the environment for years and years.”