Scattering ashes, also called cremated remains, is a poplular choice when a person or family chooses cremation. If you're seeking answers on what you can do with the ashes, look no further. Below you can find guidelines about what you can do with the ashes on land, water, and air.
What you can do with cremated remains
There are no state or federal laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.
Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden
Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes, for a fee. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information. Many religious organizations offer this option as well, and generally for a much lower charge (if any) than a cemetery.
Scattering ashes on private land
You are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s land, it’s wise to get permission from the landowner.
Scattering ashes on public land
You may wish to check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. However, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgment be their guide.
Scattering ashes on federal land
Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. However, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, start with the website of the National Park Service.
Scattering ashes at sea, rivers, and lakes
The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.
The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.
For more information, including contact information for the EPA representative in your state, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.
Scattering ashes by air
There are no state laws on the matter, but federal law prohibits dropping objects that might cause harm to people or property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material; all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.
Ash Scattering Summary
In summary, basic scattering of ashes on land requires common sense and courtesy to others using the land around you. Especially from mountian or hill top locations, where you should be cognizant of who is below you as well around you.
If you would like to scatter over water, check with your state and local governments to ensure you comply with their regulations and obtain any necessary permits.
About the Guest Author
Laurie Powsner, MSW, LCSW, is a long-time funeral consumer consumer advocate. She has 18 years of hospice experience and also works with exonerated prisoners as social worker in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She provides individual, couple and family counseling, and consults with families on issues of aging in place.
She is also the past Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Princeton, past President of the board of the national Funeral Consumers Alliance, and a current board member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Pennsylvania.