A New Use for Lye – Getting Rid Of Corpses

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

Many people have heard of using lye soap for cleaning.   What do you know about lye?   Lye has been around for a very long time and in the 1800’s larger amounts were able to be produced in laboratories.  Prior to that, lye was produced using wood ash and water.  Hence, lye is a product made directly from the environment.

Recently, lye has been explored as an alternative means for body disposition. When one passes from this life to the next – there are generally two options for the mortal body.  To be placed in the ground or incinerated.  Cemetery plots take up precious green space. The alternative, crematoriums, emit carbon dioxide and mercury from dental fillings which is not optimal.

Brad Crain, who is the president of BioSafe Engineering felt there had to be a more ecological friendly answer.  His company makes big stainless steel cylinders that house the body. Lye is then added and they are heated to 300 degrees. Once this cylinder is pressurized with 60 pounds of pressure, a body will decompose in this cylinder down to a liquid that can be safely flushed down a drain.

People in favor of this alternative have called the remains safe and even sterile. Also, a small amount of bone residue will remain which then can be given to families in an urn or another container similar to those that were cremated.

The technical term is alkaline hydrolysis. This system is currently being used by two facilities in the U.S.  One is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota in which they use it to dispose of cadavers donated for research. They have been using this method since 2005.

Other users of this method are reported to be veterinary schools, the government and pharmaceutical companies. One mortician interviewed by ABC News indicated they would like to offer this method to customers and would keep the price about the same as cremation.  This alternative should be taught in mortuary science schools as an Eco-friendly alternative for customers to choose. While various programs and courses of study still may not be quite sold on the process, there is no denying it is catching on.

As long as people have accepted an alternative to being buried in the ground, I don’t think it would be a stretch for this concept to catch on.  What is the difference of a body being put in a box and incinerated or put in a cylinder and being decomposed?   I would also want to see it as an alternative disposition for my pet.

Having a pet cemetery or plot can be expensive and again, takes up valuable green space.  Why not use this method? At veterinary schools, we feel this should be added to these programs curriculum’s if it isn’t already, as a way to make the practice with animal carcases more prevalent.

This topic is not one that people want to think about, but death is a part of life and how we choose to responsibly direct our remains is something we do need to think about.  Green space is in short supply and does it really make sense to fill it with decaying human and animal remains?  This new use for an age old cleaner is gaining momentum.  Let’s support it!

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