Scattering cremated remains, known to some as cremains, can be a great comfort when a loved one dies, as we return some part of them to the places they loved in life. However, as with just about everything in modern society, there are a few rules as to when and where it’s permitted to scatter ashes, and in a world where eco-friendly funerary practices are becoming increasingly popular and diverse, it's good to keep the environment in mind, too.
Logistical considerations for scattering ashes
Following cremation, the average amount of ash left of an adult is about 3 to 3.5 liters, or 183 to 213 cubic inches, says legendURN, which is often more than people expect. Urns are one way to go, but if you want to find a peaceful place to deposit cremains it pays to know where this is allowed.
Some people find it helpful to use a “scatter tube” when scattering ashes as it’s a more controlled way of dispersing cremains that also maintains the dignity of the deceased. Choosing a secluded spot is better than pathways where footfall is higher, and equally, it’s recommended to go at a quiet time when there are less likely to be other people nearby.
Legal considerations for scattering ashes
The good news is that the rules around scattering ashes are few, but the key consideration is getting permission from the landowner of wherever it is you’re hoping to go. In some countries, like the UK, this includes parks, commons, beaches, farms, and churchyards. Even some cemeteries, despite dealing in death, have their own restrictions, and they may have designated areas for scattering cremains.
In the US, National Parks are a wonderful option, but it’s typically the rule that you must first get permission from the relevant office. They also have specific recommendations for choosing a spot, some of which come down to environmental reasons (we’ll explore this next), and others more practical.
One of these is that it’s prohibited to mark the memorial site, be that with plaques, displays, or cairns (there are actually a few reasons why you shouldn’t stack rocks while hiking). Different parts also have more specific rules about music (which is a no-no at Bryce Canyon) and releasing animals like birds and butterflies (which, as a general rule, isn’t great in and of itself – RIP Flamingo).
While scattering ashes at a terrestrial site is usually just a case of getting permission from the landowner, things get a little more complex and unclear when it comes to scattering ashes at sea or over water, and there are a few reasons for this.
Environmental considerations for scattering ashes
Permission isn’t so much a problem for scattering ashes over water, but there are a few environmental considerations here. The ashes themselves shouldn’t affect water quality, but care must still be taken to reduce the risk of them reaching people and animals. This means avoiding fisheries, marinas, bodies of water that neighbor grazing animals, and spots that are directly upstream from a water plant or reservoir.
Pollution has become a concern with the rise in cremation rates in recent years, which according to Baldarroch Crematorium now accounts for 75.1 percent of funerals in the UK. This is particularly relevant to popular sites like the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire, UK, where in 2009 The Guardian reported staff were finding piles of cremains on the grounds due to such a high number of people scattering ashes there. As such, environmental groups have weighed in on cremation practices and highlight that sometimes it’s not the ashes themselves but the ceremonies surrounding them that can cause issues.
“There is no evidence to suggest that either the disposal of human ashes in rivers and streams or home burials have a negative impact on the environment,” explained the UK Environment Agency. “But there is concern that other aspects of these practices, such as casting tributes and other objects into the water at the same time as the ashes, could harm the environment or upset other river users.”
If you’re unsure of whether or not a site is suitable for scattering ashes, you can contact your local environment agency or speak with the landowner to clear up any questions. Furthermore, institutions like the Cremation Society have lots of resources to guide you.
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