As It Happens

Ontario funeral business dissolves the dead, drains liquid into sewer system

A greener way to go. A funeral director is offering up a gentler alternative to flame-based cremation — in which the body dissolves into a brown liquid, and flows down the sewage pipes.
The company dissolves bodies and washes the remains down the drain. (Stu Mills/CBC)

As consumers look for environmentally friendly ways to make final arrangements for themselves and their loved ones, one Ontario funeral company is offering an alternative they say is safe, clean and green: dissolution.

The process uses an alkaline solution to dissolve human remains, and then drain the effluents into a municipal sewer system.

Dale Hilton is from a family of funeral home operators in Smith Falls, Ontario. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Carol Off: Mr. Hilton, what kind of reaction are you getting in Smiths Falls to your service that dissolves the dead?

Dale Hilton: Very good reaction — e-mails and stuff even on Facebook. There is definitely a lot of interest and people are very interested in the system.

CO: Are you getting clients?

DH: Yes, it grows every month.

CO: But what do people say when they come in? Is it they want to take advantage of this "green cremation" as it's called?

DH: Environment is a big thing for people nowadays and their interest is just how the system actually works.

CO: Tell us how this process works.

DH: This process is all natural, so it's exactly the same way as if you are buried in the ground. I use the same nutrients out of the ground, I use potash, salt and water. So instead of your earth burial that would take, you know, 10 to 15 years to start to decay your body, I do it in a quicker process because I'm using the purity out of the ground. So it takes between an hour and a half to two hours to disintegrate your body to a skeleton.

CO: If you disintegrate my body what does it look like after you've done that?

DH: Your full body skeleton would be there and then what takes place after that is I put you in a convection oven because the bones are wet.

And then from there it takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to dry the bones to take the water out. Then I put you in a bone process, the same as what they do at a cremation centre now, and I turn it into ash. The only difference between my ash and the flame based ash is that it's like a white powder because it sterilizes it.
And of course the water softens the bone so you get a better product out of the system.

So-called "green funeral" proponent Dale Hilton shows off the pressurized vessel his Smiths Falls, Ont., business uses to break down dead bodies. The liquid waste is then disposed into the town's sewer system, while powdered remains are returned to the loved one's family. (Stu Mills/CBC)

CO: What happened to the rest of me?

DH: You're about 85-90 per cent water, so it doesn't take very long to disintegrate the rest of you back to liquid. And then my system kills all infected diseases and all medications and drugs. It goes through a sterilising cycle and they go through two filter systems and then it's entered into the town sewage. Then it goes down the sewage pipe into the sewage plant and of course they treat it just like they treat everything else at the sewage plant and then that's released after that.

CO: I have to ask you what do I look like after I have been turned to liquid?

DH: It looks like a weak coffee colour.

CO: Like coffee with milk? Black coffee?

DH: Yeah, coffee with milk. If you did put it in a cup and spray some water into it, it would foam up because it's a soap. It's a high concentrated fertilizer actually. On the animal side, in parts of the U.S., they're actually using it for crops because it's a high concentrated fertilizer they can't purchase off the market.

So it's not harmful, it's good. I would like to eventually see this product in our crops to naturally grow stuff around the country.

To learn more about the process, take a listen to our full interview with Dave Hilton. 

With files from CBC News