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Frequently asked questions

 

What kind of animals can Paws in Peace aquamate?

So much more than just dogs and cats. We have been called for rats and mice, snakes, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, goats, pigs, sheep, young calves, ferrets and rabbits.  

 

What is Aquamation?

 

Aquamation is a method of final disposition that is available for both our human and pet loved ones.  The scientific name for this water-based process is alkaline hydrolysis.  It is the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil.  A combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity are used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials.

 

Where is Aquamation approved?

 

Aquamation for Pets is approved everywhere in the United States and Canada.  

Does the family receive an urn?

Yes, with 20-30% more ashes than one would receive from a flame cremation.  At the end of the process, the inorganic remains of the body (the calcium phosphate of the bones) resemble skeletal remains.  In North America and other parts of the world, it is customary to process the minerals into a powder for placement in an urn.  This is the same processing step that is performed for the remains that result from flame cremation.  Some cultures wish to keep the mineral remains as whole as possible for ceremonial burial, and because Aquamation is so gentle to the remains, it is the ideal process for this purpose.

Are Aquamation remains safe to handle?

Yes, the ash remains are 100% safe to handle. Alkaline hydrolysis is a proven sterilization process that results in pathogen and disease free remains.   

What can be done with the ashes?

Absolutely anything that can be done with flame cremation ashes can be done with Aquamation ashes.  Some families bury the urn in a cemetery, or permanently inter the urn in a columbarium.  There are numerous memorial products that can be made with the ashes – hand blown glass memorials, ceramic art pieces, man-made diamonds, memorial plantings for your garden, and many more.  Many families choose to scatter some or all of the remains in a special place.  

Are there any special considerations that should be taken for spreading ashes?

Please check local regulations to make sure the scattering location is okay prior to scattering, and speak with your Aquamation provider about the best way to scatter. Some special care must be taken when spreading the ashes in wind or water, as the ash is quite fine.

Are the ashes different than those from flame cremation?

The ashes from a flame cremation are primarily the mineral remains from the bone, along with some ash from the cremation box or casket, clothing, and anything else that may have been placed in the process with the body.  The ashes from Aquamation are only the mineral remains from the bone, as there are no other materials in the ash.  

The color of ash from a flame process is typically gray in color, from the carbon discoloration from burning.  The color of ash from Aquamation is anywhere from white to a tan color.  With both processes, there can be slight variations in color from individual to individual.  

The consistency of the ash is also different.  The ash from flame cremation can be described as “chippy” bone fragments.  The ash from Aquamation is a homogenous (consistent) powder.  With Aquamation, there is 20-30% more ash remains returned to the family. 

Why do you receive more ashes than with flame cremation?

The flame cremation process occurs at 1600-1800°F with the remains in contact with direct flame.  Some of the inorganic mineral remains are lost to the air through the stack.  The Aquamation process occurs at about 200°F without any fire at all, and the water circulation in the system is a similar flow to that of a creek or stream.  It is very gentle to the final mineral remains, which allows more ash to be present at the end of the process.  

 

Will I need a larger urn?

You may, sometimes a larger urn is needed due to the increased volume of ashes, but this varies for each individual case.  Because the ashes are a fine powder versus the larger fragments from flame cremation, the ashes do fit more efficiently into urns.  Paws in Peace will provide the correct size in the urn provided.  If you want a more personalized or special urn, we can help you get the right size.

Are the ashes toxic to the environment or plants?

Absolutely not.  As with anything, toxicity of a substance is a function of concentration. A daily multivitamin is not toxic when taken as directed, but it would be toxic (and likely deadly) if the whole bottle were to be taken. When spreading or scattering ashes, we need to pay attention to where we are scattering them.  A cremation garden that allows the scattering of ashes from hundreds of individuals can be a tough environment for growing plants.  In extreme cases, poor practices could result in contamination of the water table. For families wanting to use the ashes from Aquamation or flame cremation as part of a potting soil, allowing their loved one to live on through the plant, the ashes are certainly not toxic if the soil is properly prepared.  Your Aquamation provider can provide you with guidance for creating your living memorial.

Why do families choose Aquamation?

Families have expressed:  

  • They are grateful to have a choice.

  • They prefer a process that does not use fire or flame.

  • They prefer receiving 20-30% more of their loved ones’ ashes returned to the family.

  • They believe this to be a more gentle option than flame-based cremation. 

  • They value the decreased environmental impact of the process.

 

Why is this considered an environmentally friendly choice?

With Aquamation, there are no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury to the atmosphere.   It is very energy efficient – greater than 90% energy savings compared to flame cremation, with 1/10th of the carbon footprint.  

Paws in Peace is powered by electricity from natural gas, a clean burning fuel.  We also have installed solar panels.

What is the impact of the water usage?

Very low.  The Aquamation process uses less water than a single household uses in one day (source: watr.usgs.gov). This includes all the water used for the process, along with the clean water rinsing of final remains and the vessel.

What happens to the water in the Aquamation process?

Typically the water is returned to the ecosystem via the normal wastewater treatment facility, just as all funeral homes in the United States, Canada, and many other parts of the world do during the embalming process. The Aquamation process produces a completely sterile solution of amino acids, sugars, nutrients, salts, and soap in a water solution. These are the byproducts of natural decomposition. Paws in Peace spreads the water on our land. 

What happens to the metal implants?

Medical implants are not destroyed in this process.  The metals are clean, sterilized, and look brand new after the process.  These metals can be recycled through a metal refiner to be made into new materials.  The metal refineries are amazed at the pristine condition of metals from alkaline hydrolysis versus flame cremation.  Paws in Peace returns the implants to you.  

The ability to recycle metals provides an enormous environmental benefit.  In fact, a 2011 study on the impact of funeral practices (Keijzer 1, 2) found that alkaline hydrolysis is more environmentally friendly than even natural burial.  This is true even when natural burial was considered at its optimal scenario, known as green burial.  Green burial was defined as no body bag, no embalming, the most ecologically friendly biodegradable body covering (which happened to be cardboard), no use of an elevator, graves dug by hand, no monument – only natural markers, only biologically degradable clothing, no jewels, no maintenance of burial grounds, and more people buried per graveyard.  Even though green burial directly uses the least amount of energy, the reclamation of metals from bodies that undergo alkaline hydrolysis more than offsets this energy gap.  

We can look at the types of metals used for implants and how they are made to understand the environmental credit of recycling.  Most medical implants are made of titanium.  While titanium is the ninth most abundant element on Earth, its acquisition comes with a steep environmental cost.  The cost to obtain and transport the materials used to make titanium – often from other countries – is one aspect, while the actual process to turn it into usable products is another (extraction, purification, reactor, alloy creation, and byproduct management).  According to the United States Geological Survey, the US has become highly dependent on the import of materials used to make titanium.  

A 2017 Italian study (De Angelis, et al.) found that the average person contains one half pound of metal from implants.  Metal implants are even more common in the United States and Canada. It was estimated in 2014 by a study conducted at Mayo Clinic that greater than 7 million Americans have artificial hips and knees, with more than 600,000 knees and 400,000 hips replaced each year.  A knee replacement weighs 1-2 pounds, and a hip implant weighs 3-5 pounds.  According to the CDC’s most recent death statistics, there are greater than 2,744,248 deaths per year in the US alone.    This equates to at least 1,262,354 pounds of precious metals that could be recycled each year, or enough precious metals to construct 4 Statue of Liberty-sized structures out of titanium each year.  Aquamation allows a new life for these metals and prevents the environmental impact of creating new ones.

How long has this process been around?

The modern technology has been in use by universities and the scientific industries for over 25 years!  It has been used for the final disposition of human bodies donated to medical science since 1995.  The first pet facility was opened in 2007, and the first funeral home to use the technology was in 2011.

What is the science behind the process?

A commonly misunderstood fact is that it is actually the water that performs the breakdown during the Aquamation process, not the alkali. A hydrolysis reaction is any type of reaction where bonds are cleaved by the insertion of water molecules.  With alkaline hydrolysis, a base is added to water to create an alkaline environment.  This changes the behavior of the water molecules, causing them to dissociate into hydrogen and hydroxide ions.  The solution is only 5% alkali; 95% is water.  Equally important to the process are the physical characteristics of the system (design), the continuous flow of the solution, and the heat.  This all relates to collision theory and the rate and completeness of a reaction. 

Our bodies are 65% water to begin with, along with fat, protein, minerals, and carbohydrates.  During the process, fats are reduced to salts, protein to amino acids and small peptides (which are groups of a few amino acids) and carbohydrates are reduced to sugars.  The process breaks down all organic materials into their most basic building blocks, so small that no trace of protein or nucleic acids (DNA/RNA) remain.  The organics are dissolved into the water, which consists of 96% water and 4% amino acids, sugars, and salts by weight.

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