Laws About Scattering Cremated Human Ashes on Land and Sea
As a choice for final arrangements, cremation has become increasingly popular. There are many benefits to cremation, especially when considering aspects like the cost of a traditional burial in comparison. Additionally, many families choose to keep the cremation urn of their loved ones close by as a way to remember them. Even more families choose to scatter those cremated remains at land or at sea.
Yet this isn't always something you can just do without first knowing how and where you're permitted to do so. There are several laws that control how, when and where you can scatter cremated remains on both land and over water. It's important to know what the law regulations around scattering ashes are so that you can memorialize your loved one safely and legally.
Scattering Cremated Remains on Private Property
The U.S. federal government considers cremated remains safe and inert. To that effect, there are no law regulations prohibiting scattering or even bury human ashes on private property, provided you have the permission of the owner of that property. If it's your own property, it's obviously permitted, as you're entitled to make choices regarding your own land. However, if it's the private property of someone else, these laws change.
Stepping on someone else's land without first seeking permission to do so can be considered trespassing by the property owner. This is true even if you aren't on their land to spread the remains of a loved one. If you're unwelcome, the owner of that property can charge you with trespassing. This is, of course, why you should always seek permission from the property owner, both to step onto their land and to scatter remains on that land, before doing so.
Scattering Cremated Remains on Public Property
In the United States, it's much more challenging to scatter remains on public property than it is on private land. This is because there are often individual laws about scattering human ashes across each state, or even between different cities or counties within that state.
This doesn't mean that you can't do so — only that you'll first need to seek permission from whatever local or state authority has the ability to grant you permission to scatter.
Meanwhile, lands owned by the federal government typically do not permit the scattering of cremated remains. However, some national parks are exceptions to this rule, as many have specific areas set aside to act as a scattering garden. Again, like states and counties, national parks are all different. You'll need to consult with the park and discover what their specific law regulations around scattering cremated ashes.
Scattering Cremains Over Sea
Laws controlling how and where you can scatter cremated remains over the sea are quite clear. Federal regulations like the Clean Water Act and governing bodies like the EPA require you to be a minimum of three nautical miles from the shore if you want to scatter in the ocean. These same laws also require you to only place biodegradable containers in the ocean — if your urn or another container won't naturally decompose in the water, you must retain it and bring it back to shore with you.
The situation is different if you're closer to the shore. When it comes to scattering cremated remains in tide pools or on the shoreline, this is strictly prohibited. You may be able to scatter on rivers, streams, lakes, and other, smaller bodies of water, if you can gain permission from the state or federal authority that controls the body of water.
Other Legal Ways to Scatter Cremated Remains
We've already gone over different ways that families can scatter the remains of their loved ones legally, but there are some other methods that you may want to consider. A common choice is to use a scattering garden at a cemetery, as these areas are dedicated to families for exactly this purpose, and provide loved ones with a peaceful setting in which to return to pay respects and to reflect.
A much less common method is to scatter the cremated ashes from the air. The laws on this method are less clear, as there aren't any specific rules that govern how cremated remains can be released from a plane or similar aircraft. However, the FAA does say that you aren't permitted to drop anything from an aircraft that could cause injury to people below. This means that remains can be scattered but the urn or container they are stored in cannot.
Scattering Cremated Remains Legally
It can be emotionally exhausting to make final arrangements for a loved one, especially since you're going to find it difficult to handle all the necessary planning while also processing your own grief and loss. There are many reasons why you might choose cremation, such as following the last wishes of your loved one or because it's a more affordable option than a traditional burial. If you do choose cremation, there are several different options available for what you want to do with the cremated remains. Scattering those remains is one such choice, provided you know when and where you can do so safely and legally.
This, of course, makes knowing where you can scatter essential. You don't want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law simply because you're trying to say goodbye to your loved one in a manner they would have wanted. In this case, it's important to remember that scattering on your own private property is often the easiest choice, as you can do so without seeking permission from someone else. In all other cases, be sure to comply with all state, local, and federal laws.
For more information or to help in planning a memorial, please feel free to consult with any of the MemorialPlanning.com experts from around the country.