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South Africa’s Anti-apartheid Hero Specifically Asked for a Cheap Coffin and an Eco-friendly Cremation

The body of Archbishop Desmond Tutu will undergo aquamation, an increasingly popular and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional cremation methods, using water instead of fire. With aquamation, or “alkaline hydrolysis”, the body of the deceased is immersed for three to four hours in a mixture of water and a strong alkali, such as potassium hydroxide, in a pressurised metal cylinder and heated to around 150C. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, makes a speech during the funeral ceremony for Desmond Tutu at St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town. The process liquifies everything except for the bones, which are then dried in an oven and reduced to white dust, placed in an urn and handed to relatives. Like human composting, a technique of composting bodies with layers of organic material like leaves or wood chips, aquamation is still authorised only in certain countries. In South Africa, where Tutu died last Sunday, no legislation at all governs the practice. Tutu, who died on Boxing Day aged 90, was known for his modest lifestyle. He left instructions that his funeral ceremony should be simple and without frills.