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Ash Scattering Regulations

Scattering the ashes of a family member¸ a dear friend, or a pet provides an opportunity to honor final wishes, or to celebrate the life of a loved one or pet. Having an ash-scattering ceremony with friends and family is a personal way to share the experience of saying goodbye, especially at a time when sadness and joy can intermingle. If you are making end-of-life plans for yourself, consider those who will be left when you are gone, and who will implement your wishes. Ashes are often scattered in a place of significance to the deceased such as a garden, a field, or a body of water. If ashes are to be scattered in a public area, it is important to research and obtain necessary permits.

An individual who chooses cremation has usually prepared instructions requesting that her ashes be scattered in a specific location. After the cremation process, ashes can be contained and transported in a small urn for ashes or in a pet cremation urn. Sometimes ashes are scattered at a favorite vacation spot or destination. Other people hope to have their ashes spread over the ocean, dropped from a hot air balloon, or even sent into outer space.

If you have cremated remains of a loved one that you wish to scatter, or if you are making your own end-of-life plans, we hope the following information is helpful.

  • Private Property: There are no laws prohibiting you from scattering cremated remains on private property. We recommend you obtain an owner’s agreement of plans and details in writing if you are not directly related to or familiar with the owner. Also keep in mind that the property could be sold or developed and future access limited.
  • National Parks: The National Park Service grants permission to scatter ashes within the boundary of most national parks. Contact the national park1 for specifics and requirements. Generally, the rules include: scattering be done out of sight of public access, such as roads, trails, and parking areas; scattering activity must be at least 100 yards from any watercourse; and, cremated remains must be spread over an area large enough that no single portion is accumulated in one place. The National Park System does not permit placement of markers to commemorate the event.
  • Public Parks and Lakes: Each city and state has its own regulations about scattering cremated remains in city or state parks, lakes and rivers. Contact the appropriate authority with your request. Additionally, scattering ashes on inland waters is regulated according to the Clean Water Act2. Permits may be required from the appropriate state agency.
  • Water burials: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cremated remains may be dispersed on the ocean, as long it takes place at least three nautical miles from land. Become familiar with the EPA’s regulations3, including the requirement that the scattering of ashes be reported in writing to the EPA within 30 days from the date of scattering. The regulations link (above) lists the specific information required. If a vessel and captain are hired for the event, there’s a good chance that the captain is familiar with the regulations and will take care of the necessary paperwork and filing (contact Patricia Pechko of the EPA with questions: pechko.patricia@epa.gov).
  • Other facilities: In the United States most theme parks, sports facilities, golf courses, and shopping malls strongly discourage the scattering of ashes on their property and decline such requests. Internationally, each country and facilities have their own regulations. In 2010 the Wall Street Journal published an interesting story, “Love, Honor, Cherish and Scatter4,” about a woman scattering her husband’s ashes in several places around the world, including the Coliseum in Rome.
  • Cemeteries: Some cemeteries have scattering gardens where cremated remains may be spread, and a marker placed in the area. Contact the cemetery directly. Consider that memorial urns are sometimes used in conjunction with scattering ashes.
  • Environmental concerns: According to scientists, scattering the mineral-based, cremated remains pose no threat to health or to the environment. Biodegradable urns for ashes are environmentally safe.
  • Scattering urn for ashes: There are specially designed cremation urns for sale appropriate for a scattering ceremony. Such urns include biodegradable urns mentioned above or wood cremation urns to name a few. You may choose to scatter a portion of cremation ashes, and retain a small amount in a keepsake urn such as a necklace for ashes or other small urn for ashes. Other keepsake urns include jewelry for ashes, cremation pendants, baby urns and memorial urns.
  • Due to the increasing number of individuals choosing cremation, dozens of new companies offer to help people legally scatter cremated ashes on land and sea. The companies will apply for all permits required and confirm that the rules in all jurisdictions are followed. Established companies will also transport you and your family aboard a yacht to scatter your loved ones remains in the ocean. Other companies offer assistance in scattering ashes from a hot air balloon, or will arrange to have ashes launched into space.

It can be a meaningful experience to scatter the ashes of a loved one. It’s important to obtain necessary permits. While the steps involved can seem complicated, with planning and diligence, you will be able to successfully carry through your vision.


1 National Park Services

2 The Clean Water Act

3 EPA: Burial at Sea Regulations

4 Love, Honor, Cherish and Scatter

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