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No bones about it: Californians prefer cremation




Elizabeth Harper of All the Saints You Need to Know with cremains urns that indicate the decedents' personalities. She knows a librarian who would be delighted to rest forever in an urn shaped like a book.
Elizabeth Harper of All the Saints You Need to Know with cremains urns that indicate the decedents' personalities. She knows a librarian who would be delighted to rest forever in an urn shaped like a book.
John Rabe/KPCC

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In many cities in California, space is at a premium. It's often hard to find an affordable place to live. So it should come as little surprise that cost is also a major factor when Californians consider their final resting place — and the data shows it. 

A report from the National Funeral Directors Association or NFDA examined state-by-state trends when it comes to end-of-life planning. Here in California, cremation is king, making up 63.4 percent of funerals in 2015 — and that number isn't expected to go down anytime soon. 

Cost is one consideration, but there are more, says the NFDA's Stephen Kemp.

"Cremation rates are high in California because families are moving around a lot more," Kemp says. "California has a large population of people who come from other states, so there's a lot of movement to that area." 

Kemp says these factors have led Californians to look for more portable options. Cremated remains or "cremains" are easier to transport. 

The future of cremation?

For those looking for something that's both portable and environmentally friendly, there could be a new option coming to market soon. It's called alkaline hydrolysis, and it uses water and potassium hydroxide to break down tissue. 

"It dissolves the body over a period of time leaving the bone," explains Dean Fisher, director of the donated body program at UCLA. 

Fisher is the only person in California to possess the technology. The device itself comes from Europe. 

Fisher says alkaline hydrolysis reduces a body's carbon footprint. Also, mercury fillings, pacemakers, implants won't be burnt up and sent into the atmosphere. 

"Everything with the process is recyclable," Fisher says. "The water is recyclable, prosthetics are recyclable and the ash goes back to the family."

In the end, all that's left are amino acids and water — about 270 gallons of it. Every trace of DNA is removed. The byproduct is treated with acid and then released. 

Fisher says 14 states already allow alkaline hydrolysis. California's lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would legalize the process here too. 

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