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What is aquamation?

Desmond Tutu, the late anti-apartheid campaigner, is said to have requested an aquamation, following his death on Boxing Day, an eco alternative to cremation.

Aquamation is an increasingly popular and environmentally friendly alternative to a standard cremation. It uses water instead of fire. The body of the person that has died will be immersed for 3-4 hours in a mixture of water and a strong alkali (usually potassium hydroxide) within a strong metal cylinder and is heated to around 150oC.

The process of aquamation is said to dissolve all body tissues except for the bones, which are then rinsed and then dried in an oven and turned to ashes in a cremulator.

According to advocates of the process, aquamation is said to consume less energy and emit less greenhouse gases than a traditional cremation. According to BBC News, it is said to cut the amount of environmentally harmful carbon dioxide produced by up to 90%.

Aquamation is currently only authorised in certain countries, with South Africa, where Desmond Tutu died, having no legislation to govern the process. The process was first developed in the early 1990's as a way to dispose of animals that had been used in experiments.

Desmond Tutu's funeral is said to have been a simple modest affair. He asked for a cheap coffin and requested that it was 'without frills'. In particular, the only flowers in the cathedral are a bouquet of carnations from his family. His body has been lying in state in St George's Cathedral in Cape Town. His ashes will be interred behind the pulpit at the Cathedral, where he served as Archbishop for 35 years.