Hunter Beatty is still relatively new to death work.
A year ago, the Orange County resident made a significant career change when he turned his back on a job in real estate and decided to create one of the few aquamation services offered in North Carolina.
Sitting in the welcoming area of his business in Hillsborough, Endswell, Beatty describes his journey into the alternative funeral home industry as environmentally friendly and service-based.
It started when Beatty read about the death of South African leader and activist Desmond Tutu last January. He says he remembers sitting at Carrborough Farmers’ Market after learning that Tutu opted for water cremation and looking at a nearby graveyard.
“I read all these articles — The Times, The Guardian, the BBC — they all picked up on the story,” Beatty said. “That was probably the first time I really questioned this practice of preserving dead bodies by putting them in shiny, ornate boxes, putting them in concrete storage to keep the ground from collapsing, and then taking that space that could have been used.” community. [instead] for storing corpses.
Beatty, who also previously worked in renewable energy and his wife works in solar energy, says he posted a deposit on the aquamation machine a few weeks later. This process has slowly become more common since North Carolina legalized it in 2018. After Endswell opened its doors in late 2022, it has become just the third location in the state to offer water cremation services.
While research into the energy used for cremation and aquamation is still being determined, Beatty says the process and outcome are much more environmentally conscious.
“The goal of both cremation and aquamation is to remove soft tissue that would otherwise have decayed, and then return the remains of the bone to the family,” he describes. “In this respect, they have identical processes, but from here it becomes different. The soft tissue has to go somewhere. Cremation burns it at a temperature of 1700-1800 degrees, it goes up the chimney along with any mercury from dental fillings and into the air we breathe. [as] toxic gases, greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, aquamation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, involves a solution that is 95 per cent water and 5 per cent potassium hydroxide. The process takes place in a cylindrical steel chamber that only takes up a quarter of the space in Beatty’s back room at Ends well.
“After the body is in the car and the door is closed,” he says, “I tilt the whole car up, which removes the potassium hydroxide from the seal and allows us to use less water.”
Within a few hours, the solution turns the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that make up the body into materials that can be filtered at the wastewater treatment plant, where the water is washed off after completion of the aquamation. Ends well then remove the bones, grinds them into powder, and places them in an urn for the family.
While the aquamation process is relatively unique, Beatty strives to ensure that his urn offerings are the same. He said that, based on his family’s experience choosing a vessel after his father’s death, he was disappointed that many urns were mass-produced, flashy, or a combination of both.
“And it just seemed strange to me that when you remember and honour this special and unique person, you don’t do it with art,” he says, “with something unique that suits their taste – or maybe suits your taste.” . “.
Instead, Endswell customers can opt for a cheaper package of a bamboo mortuary jar or choose from one of the hundreds of urns on display in the facility’s gallery. Beatty says he’s partnering with potters in Orange County and North Carolina to fill the space with pieces that should be more meaningful.
Ultimately, Beatty says he believes his work with Endswell will mean even more to him. While he describes starting his business as so busy that he’s still processing his afterlife emotions, he says he’s starting to appreciate that his services are based on a “long-term relationship with the community.” There are already dozens of people who have signed up for the local aqua action, and Beatty says hearing how these backers describe their decision goes a long way.
I think that although I never really wanted to do funerals says, this business still aligns with those values of doing something that is environmentally responsible, but at the same time socially oriented. [and] focused on community service.