A bill has passed in California that makes it legal for people to liquefy their corpses, instead of being buried or cremated when they die.
The bill was sponsored by "sustainable cremation" company Qico Inc, which specialises in a form of corpse disposal known as 'water cremation' – or 'aquamation'.
"A lot of people view water cremation as a more respectful option and we're glad a lot people will be able to have it," Jack Ingraham, CEO of Qico, told Inverse. "We think this is a trend for the future. I think within 10/20 years, cremation will be thought of as a water-based process and the entire flame process will be replaced."
The two usual methods of dealing with corpses – burial and cremation – both have their environmental drawbacks. Normal cemetery burials take up huge amounts of space and coffins do not degrade easily. In addition, toxic chemicals from the embalming process can leak into the soil.
Cremation is not much better. It requires temperatures of around 1000 degrees Celsius, consuming large amounts of energy – usually derived from fossil fuels – and can also release noxious chemicals into the atmosphere.
In contrast the process of aquamation dissolves the whole body, with the end product being a slightly alkaline water solution that can be neutralised before being returned to the Earth
The corpse is placed in a solution of potassium hydroxide and water. It is then heated to just below boiling point until it dissolves completely, a process that usually takes around 4 hours.
While no actual liquid is returned to the family, they do receive ashes consisting of the remains of the deceased's bones. These are not completely dissolved by the process and are crushed into a sterile powder afterwards.
Overall, this process is much less energy intensive than cremation and, as such, has already become a popular method of disposal for pet bodies.
The recently passed bill will come into effect in 2020, by which point Qico hope to have their technology ready for market.