Home Energy services Desmond Tutu’s body will undergo aquamation, ecological cremation: NPR

Desmond Tutu’s body will undergo aquamation, ecological cremation: NPR

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Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 2016. Tutu was a champion of human rights and the environment. He requested that he be buried in a cheap pine casket and without an extravagant funeral service.

Denis Farrell / AP


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Denis Farrell / AP


Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 2016. Tutu was a champion of human rights and the environment. He requested that he be buried in a cheap pine casket and without an extravagant funeral service.

Denis Farrell / AP

Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid leader and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus, died last Sunday in Cape Town, South Africa. Despite his monumental status, he requested a humble departure in a pine casket without the extravagant expense of services. And in his last act of championing the environment, his remains will undergo aquamation, an ecological alternative to traditional cremation.

Tutu’s ashes will be buried at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, The BBC reported on Saturday. But before his remains are buried, they must first undergo a process called aquamation.

Scientifically speaking, the process is called alkaline hydrolysis. According to Bio-Response Solutions, an Indiana-based company that specializes in aquamation services, the body goes through the same process as if it were buried in the ground.

Water, alkaline chemicals, and heat are used to speed up the decomposition process that takes place in nature. The body is loaded into a stainless steel container and filled with a mixture of 95% water and 5% alkali. The mixture is heated to 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit and circulated gently for 6-8 hours.

In comparison, traditional cremation uses temperatures of up to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and takes about two hours.

Only the bones are left at the end of aquamation and cremation, according to the North American Cremation Association. From there, the bones are broken down into a fine powder or dust and placed in an urn.

One of the biggest benefits of aquamation is its minimal impact on the environment. The process uses no fossil fuels and is 90% more energy efficient than standard cremation, according to Bio-Response Solutions.

In addition to fighting for human rights, Tutu was adamant about defending the planet. The Right Reverend Michael Weeder, Dean of St. George’s Cathedral, said Tutu aspired to be an “eco-warrior”, the BBC reported.

A announcement of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation after the Archbishop’s death said he “campaigned vehemently for gentler stewardship of the Earth and against the coming ravages of climate change.”


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