Cremation Is on the Rise, but Where to Put the Ashes?

Scattering the remains of your loved one—legally—can present something of a challenge.

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Lars Tunbjork / Agence Vu for TIME

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As an article in the current issue of TIME explains, (“The American Way of Death” by Josh Sanburn,) by 2017, one out of two Americans will choose cremation over burial. The ashes of the deceased—funeral directors call them “cremains”—are mostly mineral, harmless, and highly portable. But finding a final resting place for them can be tricky. According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), one-third of people who receive cremains bury them, one third keep them, and the last third scatter them. It’s the scattering that can present the most challenges, since states, counties, and cities have stitched together an uneven patchwork of laws about where human ashes can end up.

Lots of people like the ideas of scattering ashes at sea, but boats and planes must be at least three nautical miles from shore before any ashes go overboard, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Note that only biodegradable objects, such as cremains, flowers, and wreaths, are permitted in the ocean—no urns or other objects—and pet ashes are prohibited. Scatterings are supposed to be reported to the regional administrator of the EPA within thirty days.

(Click here to read TIME’s special report on cremation and find out why our changing attitude toward this final rite of passage says everything  about the way we live now.)

If you’re thinking about scattering on the beach, many states, such as California, have rules that prohibit seaside sprinklings. (Although if you’re willing to wade out a bit, California does allow scatterings five hundred yards from shore.) The non-profit Funeral Consumers Alliance says that many states turn a blind eye to shoreside scattering into public waters, preferring to save their enforcement actions for big-time polluters. But that doesn’t mean it’s legal.


As for the great wide open, many national parks (including the Grand Canyon) allow scattering with a permit and permission from the chief park ranger. However, ashes must be finely pulverized and widely distributed to avoid leaving any potentially alarming chunks of tooth or bone. The rules at national parks also require staying away from roads, developed areas, and bodies of water. In some areas, scattering is prohibited to avoid contaminating future archeological explorations.

Private lands require permission from the owner. Central Park is out, as is Disneyland, at least if you want to stay on the right side of the law. Ditto most stadiums. In 2005, a man ran onto Lincoln Financial Field during a game and began sprinkling the ashes of his late mother, who was apparently a big Philadelphia Eagles fan. He was arrested, fined $100, and sentenced to fifty hours of community service. (Disneyland is reportedly a favored place for “wildcat scatterers,” people who distribute ashes without permission. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are said to be the most popular spots for such dustings.)

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The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t prohibit cremains to be scattered from airplanes, as long as there’s no hazard to people or property. Many states prohibit scattering ashes over developed areas or bodies of water, and in some states, pilots have to be flying at a minimum altitude before they start scattering. But note that dropping ashes from a plane isn’t a job for amateurs, who can easily end up with a face full of grandpa. Jeff Jorgenson, owner of Elemental Cremation and Burial in Seattle and a funeral director with a background in aviation, tells the story of a pilot friend who got more than she bargained for while scattering ashes. “She got out into the yonder and opened the window … A sizable portion of the person swirled back into the cockpit and covered everything. She ended up having to divert to the nearest airport to clean the plane out. I can’t even imagine what a mess that would be.”

Fortunately, if you’re just planning to transport the ashes by air—not scatter them—many airlines will give you the option of bringing the ashes in a carry-on or checking them in luggage. Mailing human ashes is legal, with the right forms, although only the US Postal Service will oblige. FedEx and UPS won’t be any help in this situation. All in all, says Jorgenson, “The costs of notifying authorities and getting a permit are minimal. Why would you risk the fines and hassle by not doing it properly?”

Click here to read TIME’s special report on cremation and find out why our changing attitude toward this final rite of passage says everything about the way we live now.

25 comments
SDMemorials
SDMemorials

We sell cremation urns online, and we've seen a substantial rise just in the last two years in the number of people who are purchasing biodegradable urns for the purpose of scattering cremains. The most commonly purchased item is a simple, inexpensive tube that functions much like a salt shaker. But we also see a major rise in the number of people purchasing urns that are designed to be filled and then dispersed on the ocean. There are even companies in places like Florida that make a business out of taking families out on the ocean for the purpose of scattering the cremains of a loved one.

hardtohandle
hardtohandle

What if you want to throw away the cremains?

my1life6
my1life6

www.crystalremembrance.com

Weldridge
Weldridge

There are no group cremations. Combining remains is left to veterinarians. Most if not all crematories take care of one person at a time - in fact many refuse to perform a cremation of people with their pets.

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

this is so disgusting we need to stop this and have home buriels

tbbaot
tbbaot

If most people saw how they do cremation, i doubt they would choose it for themselves or their loved ones. Here's a clue: That container you take home may be a blend of several people depending on how busy the crematorium is that day.

velesot365
velesot365

@LeeMunLim  What? What is wrong with cremation? Who acres what happens to your body after you die. It is a lifeless shell that has no more value than a dead squirrel at the side of the road.

sykodiesel
sykodiesel

@tbbaot we are all mixed anyways... i have watched several cremations, and its very honorable.. unless you you get a few necro's hanging around...

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@tbbaotyets its the most popular!  sadly we need to be buried not cremated and with cremation there is no good bye

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@velesot365 @LeeMunLim there is NOTHING TO MOURN!  No it has worth thats why we have cemeteries to remember the dead.  Cremains DO NOT give life to the flower beds. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@LeeMunLim @tbbaot 

A body is a damn sack of meat and once you are dead you can bury, burn, or send your corpse off to a medical school.

Only the living give a damn if 2% of the ashes armt Grampy... and only the living give a damn about burying a sack of meat.

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@sykodiesel @LeeMunLim @velesot365 Oh not really since human ash does nothing to keep the earth from growing now the human body!  thats totally different.  How do you know this people are rotting to the bugs as you say?  Plus cemeteries are there for the living not the dead.  

sykodiesel
sykodiesel

@LeeMunLim @velesot365 not at all.. thats what morgues are for.. if you wish to see them in a wall, in an urn, thats not a problem. Ashes are a great way to spread your family love back to the earth again... there is nothing worse than burial. Rotting to the bugs is not the best way to go anymore. Acid vats and liquid food could be a good solution too.

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@velesot365  it removes you from death.  Yeah you do so we can remember the dead and remember we are going to be there one day not cremated ashes scattered and then lets forget they even existed 

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@velesot365 @LeeMunLim well in some places you can be food!  Yes you do.  who remembers who was cremated NO ONE and that farther removes you from death 

velesot365
velesot365

@LeeMunLim @velesot365  Why would you mourn a body? A human body has 0 worth unless possibly as food for carrion. You don't need a cemetery to remember the dead. I'm not to sure what you are trying to get at with your last sentence.

hardtohandle
hardtohandle

@LeeMunLim

people who think the body is useful after death are ignorant. Is someone supposed to be shocked you said that about crocs? Only you and your mindset are concerned. There is no need for a body after death, it just rots. Why waste space with it? Bad enough ashes take up space.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@LeeMunLim @Hadrewsky @tbbaot 


Grind me up for animal food? My corpse doesnt give a whit 

I plan on DONATING my body to a medical school.... but if you want me fed to crocs I could care less.... IM DEAD

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@velesot365 @LeeMunLim @Hadrewsky @tbbaot and home funerals are even cheaper you pay NOTHING in home funerals!  300 hundred bucks for cremation!  000.00 for home funerals!  so which is cheaper!  No you can bury your family in your backyard look up Elvis Presely and Andy Griffith.  Oh I know more then you.  If you want to know more go to youtube and type in the Good death.  YOu can be buried in your own backyard but there has to be permits and everything before it goes into place! 

velesot365
velesot365

@LeeMunLim @Hadrewsky @tbbaot  What would it matter if you did grind it up and fed it to an animal? Actually due to our poor modern diets we might not be very healthy for a croc but that's besides the point. The whole washing and dressing the body is superstitious nonsense held over from man made religions which say that the body has some inherent value when it doesn't. Cremation is much cheaper than a burial unless you are burying your family members in your backyard which is violating multiple health and safety codes. Lee you obviously know little about this subject and your factually wrong statements attest to that.

LeeMunLim
LeeMunLim

@Hadrewsky @LeeMunLim @tbbaot so when you go I should grind your body up and then let crocs eat you up?  No people want to be removed from death even farther and not take the body home and wash dress and bury it.  Like we did in the old days.  You do know that if you decide to have your body taken over by the family it costs nothing compared with cremation which costs around 300 plus the memorial which costs even more