Engineer hopes to introduce water cremation for pets
High-tech proposals for an environmentally safe alternative for burial of pets — the island’s first — are awaiting government approval.
Bermudian engineer Philip Mason told The Royal Gazette that his plans for the “eco-friendly alternative to direct burial and flame cremation” had been welcomed by veterinarians.
If given the green light by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the facility at Sally Port in Dockyard would introduce aquamation, also known as “water cremation”.
Mr Mason said he hit on the idea five years ago as he grieved for a pet.
“One day, our 13-year-old lab was running on the beach and happy, and the next week we had to put her to sleep because of a heart problem. It was devastating.
“It was then that I read an article about how strongly people can mourn the loss of a pet.”
The article also mentioned aquamation, a chemical alternative to burial or cremation, prompting Mr Mason to contact the North American manufacturers and investigate the science behind it.
Aquamation made headlines in January this year after the South African anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu chose it as an environmentally safe route for the disposal of his body.
Mr Mason had just secured a United States patent for his innovation on the aquamation process, which he said cut the processing time from 20 hours to under three hours.
He said: “We did the testing on a pilot plant in Vancouver, Canada, which took us about 18 months.
“Testing was positive, so we shipped the pilot plant to Bermuda.”
The proposal was submitted to the Department of Planning, and on April 14 environmental authorities gazetted the plans for Solace Aquamation Bermuda, with two weeks for objections to be filed.
Mr Mason called it “an alternative option for Bermuda pet owners who are looking for a way to memorialise and help with the grief after their pet passes”.
Funeral options for pet owners in Bermuda are limited.
Animals can be buried on the owner’s property or disposed of at the Marsh Folly composting facility in Pembroke.
Mr Mason said shipping pets overseas could run up a bill of thousands.
He said his “gentle, respectful” alternative used a process called alkaline hydrolysis, with bone dust left as the only by-product.
Pet owners could then receive the remains “in an Earth-friendly urn as a keepsake, or for private dispersal”.
The process comes with no emissions, and Mr Mason said the waste water, which was safe for disposal, might eventually even be used to grow plants.
He said: “Our end goal is to upcycle this waste water into something useful. Then the process would not just be carbon neutral, but able to draw carbon out of the atmosphere through the growth of plants.
“That’s where we might be able to get a global certificate as carbon negative.”
Mr Mason added that, if given the green light, his 20-year patent could be sold to companies overseas interested in taking up the process.
The facility envisaged for Dockyard would fit into a trailer.
He said that, given the scale of demand in Bermuda, it would likely only operate one day a week.
“I’ve spoken with two vets who said they cannot wait for it to start.”
Mr Mason said alternatives to burial were “the way the industry is going” — for humans as well as their pets.
Sea burial as an option in Bermuda came to the public’s attention in 2017 when David Saul, the former premier, was laid to rest in the ocean off Devonshire Bay.
That same year saw cremation introduced to the island for the first time by Amis Memorial Chapel after repeatedly being turned down by planning.
Mr Mason said aquamation came with no environmental impact.
“There is a lot of interest with so much emphasis today on carbon footprints and healing the earth,” he said. “The only thing released to the environment by this process is water vapour.”