Alkaline hydrolysis ('water cremation') regulation in Scotland

A Scottish Government consultation on the regulation of alkaline hydrolysis (‘water cremation’) as a method of body disposal in Scotland.


1. The Scottish Government wants to ensure that all those who have died are treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Death, burial, cremation and related topics are very emotive subjects. There are also ethical, faith, social and cultural dimensions to caring for the deceased. This consultation seeks to balance clarity of language around the alkaline hydrolysis process with the objective of ensuring that the subject matter is treated with care, respect and sensitivity.

2. Throughout this consultation, some of the language used is necessarily technical and may seem clinical. This has been done intentionally to avoid ambiguity in describing alkaline hydrolysis and to ensure accuracy in the development of a potential legal framework around the process.

3. This consultation is seeking views on proposals to regulate alkaline hydrolysis as a method of disposal of human remains in Scotland. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s decision to choose alkaline hydrolysis has increased awareness about the process. Alkaline hydrolysis can also be known by other terms, including water or liquid cremation, flameless cremation, green cremation and bio-cremation as well as by trade names. For the purposes of this consultation, we are using the term alkaline hydrolysis.

4. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 (‘the 2016 Act') provides a modern, comprehensive legislative framework for burial and cremation. Many of the 2016 Act’s provisions are rooted in recommendations made by various review groups, particularly the Infant Cremation Commission and the Burial and Cremation Review Group.

5. Section 99 of the 2016 Act enables Scottish Ministers to make regulations to extend the application of the 2016 Act to encompass new methods of disposal of human remains. The proposals to regulate alkaline hydrolysis discussed in this consultation aim to provide people in Scotland with a possible alternative choice to burial and cremation. In addition, the proposals aim to provide reassurance as it is intended that this alternative choice will be subject to the same oversight, requirements and conditions as cremation is, as set out in the Cremation (Scotland) Regulations 2019.

6. Furthermore, this consultation discusses other, pre-existing requirements that would apply to processes associated with alkaline hydrolysis as it involves the water environment. River Basin Management Planning aims to improve Scotland’s water environment to good ecological and chemical status and protect it if already at good status. Any direct or indirect (i.e. to land rather than to drain) liquid discharge to the water environment from an alkaline hydrolysis process would require an authorisation from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011.

7. In relation to any potential impacts of alkaline hydrolysis, there are already well established regulatory mechanisms and planning processes in place to enable high-quality development and ensure efficient use of land, while protecting natural resources. They aim to achieve economic growth while reducing emissions and respecting the quality of environment, place and life. The planning system will consider the provision of the most appropriate methods and technologies in order to protect the environment and public health. For new industrial developments all plans should promote resource efficiency and the minimisation of waste. (Question 1)



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