ARVADA — On a dead-end street lined with auto body shops on the industrial edge of this city sits a low-slung, brick building where Ed Gazvoda works without automobile lifts, stud welders or dual-action sanders.
Instead, Gazvoda has a tilting stainless-steel chamber into which he fits human bodies, a collection of plastic jugs to store the remains — or “essence” — and a sledgehammer to break up the bones.
“We’re the only real body shop,” he said wryly of his 5-month-old enterprise, Sustainable Funeral.
Gallows humor comes with the territory when you’re in the business of disposing of the dead.
In Gazvoda’s case, the Harvard grad and crematory licensee is a disciple of a still-emerging method of human disposition: alkaline hydrolysis. Using heat, water and a strong base — potassium hydroxide, in this case — a body can be dissolved into liquid and bone in a matter of hours.
According to the Cremation Association of North America, alkaline hydrolysis mimics what happens in natural decomposition as part of a burial, “just sped up dramatically by the chemicals.”
Proponents of the practice, also referred to as resomation, aquamation or water cremation, tout it as the most environmentally friendly way to complete the final step of human life. Instead of releasing carbon dioxide, and mercury from dental fillings, into the air through conventional cremation or digging up ever scarcer land for graves, alkaline hydrolysis chemically reduces the body to a brown, sterile DNA-free liquid — essentially salts, sugars and amino acids — that can later be used as fertilizer in a garden or farmer’s field.
“It breaks apart the atoms and molecules in your body,” Gazvoda said. “It’s by far the greenest way to go. It’s the future of the funeral industry because people want to do good when they die.”
It’s the way Cecilia Girz chose to lay her husband of 23 years to rest this past summer. Girz, a retired meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, was sold on the method based on its smaller ecological footprint.