After cremation, it’s common to scatter the ashes in a place that was significant to your loved one. Sometimes the place is specified in a will; sometimes it’s the choice of you and your family, who feel the location complies with your loved one’s wishes.
Families can personalize the ritual to create a tribute that’s meaningful and relevant to their loved one’s life. The family of an avid fisherman might scatter the ashes of their loved one near a favorite fishing spot. Others choose a location with natural beauty – a park, meadow, mountain trail, or the ocean.
If you’re considering scattering the ashes of a loved one on public land, it’s best to contact the agency that has jurisdiction over the area. Depending on the location, there may be local and governmental restrictions, prohibitions, or permit requirements on scattering ashes in populated areas and certain public areas.
No laws prevent scattering on private land. If you don’t own the property, be sure to obtain permission from the owner before scattering the ashes there. In some cases, a permit may be required as well.
National parks, public beaches, federally owned land, and controlled public lands, such as city parks and greenways, may have rules and regulations. Before deciding to scatter the ashes in a public place, check laws that may prohibit it. Many national parks require a written, formal request describing what you plan to do. If approved, they’ll send a letter back explaining the requirements. If you want to scatter the ashes in a park, contact the municipality and ask if they require a permit. You should not scatter within 100 yards of public roads, walks, or trails.
When scattering the ashes by boat into an ocean, lake, or other body of water, check to make sure any professional service you use is aware of and complies with state and federal laws. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. If you don’t wish to scatter the ashes, you can place a biodegradable urn or container in the water that will dissolve without doing environmental damage. The EPA requires a report on any scattering in the ocean within 30 days of the event. If you’re scattering the ashes on your own, check with the EPA about further rules on burial at sea.
Aerial scattering can be done from a plane, hot air balloon, drone, or other airborne device. A number of private and commercial companies across the country provide this service, a creative option that allows you to scatter their loved one’s ashes over scenic and remote areas that might not otherwise be accessible. An easier, more affordable option that doesn’t require professional knowledge or equipment is to scatter the ashes from a cliff or mountain.
A scattering garden, land set aside for scattering the cremated remains of humans or pets, is usually owned by a cemetery or crematory. Along with the scattering garden, the facility may offer memorial options: a memorial plaque, wall, or piece of art on which the names are inscribed, or a living memorial, such as a tree with a plaque. Some scattering gardens maintain a “Book of Remembrance,” a register containing the names of the people whose ashes have been scattered in the garden.