WTF Fun Fact 13123 – Aquamation

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation or water cremation may be the next frontier in the death industry. Researchers say it’s one of the most sustainable options for treating human remains.

What is aquamation?

In 2021, aquamation became a subject of interest after the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who requested that his remains be disposed of in this eco-conscious manner. Now, it’s a popular choice in the “green burial” movement.

The goal of aquamation is to avoid the use of non-biodegradable materials and promote the natural decomposition of the body. During the process, the body is liquified under pressure. Then, the bones are dried and turned to ashes in an oven. It reduces the need for ostentatious caskets and the greenhouse gases produced by traditional cremation by fire. It also cuts energy use.

Smithsonian Magazine (cited below) explains in more detail:

“During alkaline hydrolysis, a human body is sealed in a long, stainless-steel chamber, while a heated solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent sodium hydroxide passes over and around it…The process dissolves the bonds in the body’s tissues and eventually yields a sterile, liquid combination of amino acids, peptides, salts, sugars and soaps, which is disposed of down the drain at the alkaline hydrolysis facility. The body’s bones are then ground to a fine powder and returned to the deceased person’s survivors, just as the bones that remain after flame cremation are returned to families as ash.”

Choosing a “green burial”

While you may not have heard of water cremation, there are dozens of American companies that build machines for it. It’s legal in at least 26 states as well as throughout the world.

The process itself has been around for a long time, but it’s still not mainstream. However, it’s likely you’ll hear more about it as nearly every industry strives to become more sustainable.

There are states that still ban the practice because of concerns over the effects of residue in the water supply. It appears not to have any negative effect on water, but regulating it is still a challenge since aquamation’s use is still relatively rare.

According to the Berkeley Planning Journal, the chemicals and materials buried along with bodies in conventional American burials “include approximately 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete.” Fire cremations in America “release an estimated annual 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as toxic materials like mercury.”

Smithsonian notes that “Alkaline hydrolysis consumes approximately 10 percent of the energy required to cremate a body in flame, its equipment runs on electricity rather than fossil fuels, and it emits no greenhouse gases.”

Once people get over the suspicions that come with novel new burial practices, experts believe the industry will grow.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Could Water Cremation Become the New American Way of Death?” — Smithsonian Magazine


WTF Fun Fact 12600 – Potty-Trained Cattle

Did you know that cattle can be potty trained with less instruction than toddlers? Some say it’s “easier” or “faster,” but that’s really going to depend on your access to and familiarity with each. Still, we didn’t realize cows would have the inclination to do it at all!

Researchers and cattle ranchers have worked together in Germany to train cattle not to pee out in the open. And it’s not a matter of cleanliness; it’s a matter of survival. OUR survival.

There are around 1 billion cattle in the world. Each pees about 10 liters (or 5 gallons) a day. It’s a lot. But we all pee, so what’s the problem?

Well, there are a couple of issues here:
1. When cows release all that urine in barns, it mixes with poop on the floor and creates ammonia, leading to air pollution for nearby people.
2. When they pee in pastures, it leeches into local waterways. And while most places are equipped with treatment facilities, not all of that infrastructure is in great shape and can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of potential pollutants in the water.
3. Cow urine also contains nitrous oxide. This substance gets trapped in the earth’s atmosphere and can prevent heat from escaping into space, increasing our planet’s average temperature.

So, if we can prevent all this, why wouldn’t we? And we can’t stop cows from peeing, so scientists want to see if they can capture the urine in a way that allows them to control it so that it causes less harm.

Potty training cows sounds ridiculous, but so does letting them pollute our atmosphere while we do nothing. (And let’s face it, we’re not getting rid of cows any time soon.)

Of course, they had to call it “MooLoo training,” so some of this remains pretty silly. The experiment also involved a “cow psychologist,” which is not something we ever heard about at career day.

Ok, so what does cow potty training actually look like? It’s not quite as bizarre as it sounds. It’s just a special pen with astroturf that cows can be trained to pee in. The floor is created in a way that allows the urine to be captured underneath. And some of it can even be used to make fertilizer.

Cows are pretty smart, but they’re also encouraged by food – so it didn’t take them long to realize they got a snack after using the “restroom,” making it much easier to train them.

The first experiment involved 16 cattle and the researchers had 11 of them trained after about 10 days.

Now that we know “MooLoo training” works, the goal will be to automate it so it can be adopted by farmers with much larger herds.

If you’re really eager to see a cow use the bathroom, there’s a video below!

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Potty-trained cattle could help reduce pollution” — Science News