Disposing of human ashes may seem like a macabre and morbid task, but the process is relatively intuitive if done the right way.
The most critical aspects of disposing of human ashes are to be aware of the laws in your area regarding spreading ashes, preparing to dispose of the ashes, and what locations to avoid.
Arguably the most crucial part of this process is the location.
Conceive a detailed plan as to how you want to dispose of the ashes. A few essential things to consider are below.
First, consider where you would like to dispose of the ashes.
If the deceased has specified that they want their ashes spread in a specific place, check with the local government to ensure you can put them in that location.
If you do not have a specific location in mind, there are three places you need legal approval to dispose of human ashes. These are:
- Sea burials
- Private property
For all human ash disposals, you will need an urn or some method of carrying the deceased remains, gloves, and any other objects you want to be buried with the ashes.
While human ashes are not toxic material and cannot cause harm by physical touch, spreading them through the air may cause asthmatic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Most states allow public land disposal to some degree. Some state parks require that human ashes only be disposed of in non-heavily trafficked areas.
Use personal discretion and good judgment – do not put the ashes in a public campground, rest area, or picnic shelter.
Putting human ashes in a heavily trafficked area is not only disrespectful to the deceased but could be offensive to other people.
Other rules for disposing human ashes on public land include:
- No publicity – the ceremony must be private
- Scatter 100 yards from any trails
- No markers or memorials
If you have several urns to dispose of, you may need to register the land as a functioning cemetery. Also, ensure that you are not mixing ashes with another source.
National Parks are technically public land, but they have more strict laws concerning the disposal of human ashes.
The Grand Canyon, for example, has permanently banned the scattering of human ashes as of August 2021 out of respect to the surrounding Native American tribes.
Yosemite, however, still allows visitors to dispose of human remains if they are spread evenly in hidden areas and are not near creeks or other waterways.
You must apply for a permit to initiate the process.
Sea burials are one of the most popular methods of human ash disposal, as they provide closure.
Loved ones observe the urn holding the ashes sink to the bottom of the sea, or watch them float away with the current.
As lovely as they are, though, sea burials have strict guidelines. If this is your preferred method, you must:
- Use a biodegradable urn
- Place the ashes at least three miles offshore
- Report the sea burial to the MPRSA within 30 days
The laws regarding human ash disposal into public waterways are varied, ranging from complete freedom to permit requirements.
If you want to dispose of human ashes in a public river or lake, chances are you will need a permit.
This regulation is due to the Clean Water Act by the federal government, as human ashes can end up in drinking water.
Tap water is pretty contaminated, to begin with, so once again – use good judgment and plan to dispose of human ashes in the ocean or larger bodies of water.
Disposing of human ashes on private property is the easiest method. If the property in question belongs to you, you can bury or spread the ashes wherever you please.
That said, you need to check with local ordinances for pipes or other underground systems to prevent damage – if damage occurs, you may pay a steep fine.
Scattering ashes on top of dirt or land on your property requires no governmental input.
If you are not the property owner, but you wish to dispose of the ashes on the property, you must obtain consent from the legal property owner.
Getting the consent of the owner in writing is preferable, as you have it on record.
Holding the burial at your private residence or property allows you some flexibility regarding burying the ashes. A few ideas are:
- Raking – rake the ashes into the soil of a garden or tree
- Digging – Dig a substantial hole for the ashes
- Wind – Scatter the ashes in the wind
Some cemeteries have property dedicated to ash scattering, so if you would rather not have the ashes on your property – look into an ash garden.
Also, try not to dispose of the ashes anywhere that could eventually lead to development in the future. Doing so is more for your mental health than any federal regulation.
Also read: Do Fingernails Decompose?
Rules about disposing of human ashes are hard to come by – but there are some laws regarding what you should never do.
The most prevalent is the airplane method. Disposing of human ashes from an airplane is not illegal. However, you can only scatter the ashes.
You cannot drop an urn or any alternative transport method from the air. Doing so is likely to harm pedestrians or wildlife.
Another aspect of the human ash disposal process to consider is personal safety. Before you dispose of the ashes, let the crematorium know you want to scatter them.
If the crematorium is made aware, they can ensure no metal fragments, sharp bone pieces, or other harmful materials are in the ashes.
Navigating the disposal of human ashes can be tricky – below are some common questions regarding the process.
Yes, touching human ashes is perfectly safe.
Ashes are 100% natural, pulverized bone. Meaning there should be no foreign materials or toxic waste in the ashes.
You may want to wear gloves while disposing of the ashes to prevent them from sticking to your hands. Germ-wise, though, you are safe.
Some think keeping ashes on a mantle or land is bad luck, but it is not disrespectful to the deceased.
If you are concerned about the urn being too obvious, try purchasing a stylish vessel that resembles home decor.
Disposing of human ashes in a garden or grass is not poisonous to the environment. There are no indications that ashes affect plant life or wildlife in any negative way.
Not necessarily. While urns are the most often used method of holding ashes, no regulations state the ashes must be in an urn.
You can use any form of carrier you wish, but here are some creative ideas:
- Biodegradable urn
- Coffee tin – the deceased might have a favorite flavor or brand
You can have the ashes turned into blown glass, jewelry, or other items before you dispose of them in your yard as well.
If disposing of human ashes on public land, water, or private property does not appeal to you, there are tons of creative forms of disposal.
One way is to have a fireworks display with fireworks made from human ashes. You can also get a memorial tattoo with ink made out of the ashes.
There are companies out there that dispose of human ashes in coral reefs. They turn them into coral-like shapes for ocean life to use as shelter – this is an excellent alternative to sea burials.
For music lovers, consider getting the ashes turned into a vinyl record. This method is perfect for those that want the ashes in their home but do not want a traditional urn.
Flushing human ash down the toilet is not the best choice. Human ashes are not the same consistency as wood ash or paper ash – they are much thicker.
The thick consistency of human ashes may clog pipes, drains, and sewage systems. It is much more cost-effective to spread them or bury them.
Flushing human ash is not respectful to the dead or the family of the deceased.
Disposing of human ashes does not have to be stressful or cumbersome.
The disposal process can be a spiritual, or even beautiful, event for loved ones of the deceased.
Paying respects to the deceased is the heart of human ash disposal and should be treated as such.
Always respect the ashes and do not scatter them in illegal or unauthorized places.
The most crucial things to remember are to get permission for scattering ashes, always ask for consent on private property, and never dispose of human ashes in public waterways.
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