What Do Ashes Look Like & Is It Legal To Scatter?

More than half of Americans who pass are now cremated, which is up from just 25% in 1999. This growing trend is expected to continue and is mainly being driven by the cremation cost being much less than burial and that many families are less traditional than they used to be. Families of people who are cremated are looking for meaningful things to do with their loved one’s cremated ashes. One of the most common memorials is to scatter the ashes of a loved one at one or more places that had meaning to them. According to the Cremation Association of North America, nearly forty percent of people who are cremated choose to have their ashes scattered. Even with the amount of people scattering ashes, there are still many misconceptions about the process of the cremation and what ashes look like, the legality of scattering ashes, and how can ashes be scattered. Below we address each of these.

What Will I Receive After a Loved One is Cremated?

scattering ashes

Prior to having a loved one cremated, the funeral home or crematorium will typically provide you with a number of urn options. If you purchase one of these, your loved one’s ashes will be returned in it. Alternatively, you can supply your own urn the provider can fill for you, or you can opt not to purchase an urn and have your loved one’s ashes returned in a temporary plastic or wooden container. What will the ashes look like? Your loved one’s ashes present inside of the urn or temporary container will be a greyish or white color and will typically have a relatively uniform, but coarse texture. The ashes of an average adult weigh about five pounds.

Is It Legal to Scatter Ashes?

There are very few laws in place throughout the U.S. related to scattering ashes. However, it is always recommended to check with local city or county offices to see if there are any regulations where you plan on scattering. In addition, if you plan on scattering in a National Park, be sure to check their regulations and get a permit when necessary.

If you plan on scattering at sea (commonly referred to as a water burial or burial at sea), then it is important to understand and follow the rules under the Federal Clean Water Act, which includes scattering ashes at least three nautical miles from shore and using biodegradable items in the scattering (in other words, do not leave behind a plastic or metal container). In addition, it is required that the EPA is notified within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.

How Do I Scatter Ashes?

There are many ways to scatter ashes. One of the most common is called casting - this is where ashes are scattered into the air and only travel a few feet from the person scattering. Be sure to check wind conditions prior to casting and always scatter downwind to avoid having the ashes blow back on you. One of the most popular scattering urns used in casting is called the Eco Scattering Urn and can be purchased online or at most funeral homes nationwide.

Another popular way to scatter ashes is floating them out in the water in a biodegradable urn (often referred to as a water burial). This is becoming more and more common and one of the most popular new urns used in this way is called the Eco Water Urn.

A third way many people scatter is called trenching. This involves burying ashes in the ground – many people will simply pour them in the earth or bury them in a biodegradable burial urn. Sometimes families will also scatter on the ground and use a rake to spread and bury.

Other ways people scatter ashes of loved ones include airplane scatterings, sending ashes into space, or including them in an artificial reef.

If you plan on scattering in multiple places or dividing ashes among multiple family members, let your funeral director know in advance so they can return the ashes divided up into multiple urns, or in a scattering urn such as Eco Scattering that can be used multiple times.

Scattering Ceremonies

Many families who scatter ashes of a loved one will choose to have a ceremony prior to, during and/or after the scattering. This can be an informal event at the place of scattering with family and friends taking turns participating in the scattering, or it can be a more formal event with a eulogy, speakers, music, food and beverages, and other special details of your choosing.

Scattering Urns

There are many different scattering urns available on the market today. Below we’ve highlighted two of the more popular ones.

Scattering Urn: Made from bamboo, a sustainable resource, the patented Eco Scattering Urn gives you the ability to scatter with control and ease. It has a unique open and close locking mechanism that allows you to securely transport the ashes and allows you to scatter at one location, then re-secure a portion of the ashes in the urn to scatter at additional locations. Starting at $49, it’s also an affordable option for most families.

Water Urn: For families interested in a water burial for their loved one, the Eco Water Urn has become a popular choice. The urn is made from recycled plant materials and it is 100% biodegradable. It holds up to 100% of a person’s ashes and floats for up to a few minutes before the bottom breaks open, gracefully scattering the ashes in the water. In addition, this unique urn comes packaged in an attractive bamboo casing, which gives you the ability to securely transport the urn holding your loved one’s ashes to that special place to have the water burial.