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The Greening of Death

Eco-friendly services are a small part of the $12 billion funeral industry, but they’re ready for their moment in the sun

Jeff Edwards, owner of Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio, wants to make one thing clear: He isn’t flushing your grandmother down the toilet.

That, he says, is the biggest misconception about alkaline hydrolysis, a green alternative to cremation that involves liquefying human remains with potassium hydroxide and 300F heat. The environmental benefits of hydrolysis are hard to argue with: The process results in only a fraction of the carbon emissions of a traditional cremation. But when Edwards began offering the service last January—he says he’s the first funeral home in the U.S. to do so—the media “distorted the facts,” alleging that the liquid created by hydrolysis (only the bone residue is saved for an urn) gets flushed. “I mean, for all intents and purposes, the liquid remains are released back into the water treatment facility,” Edwards concedes. “So yeah, that does mean they go down the drain. But it doesn’t mean somebody is standing behind a machine with a great big … commode, and you’re flushing grandma down the drain.”