Guide to Ash Scattering Cremated Remains

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With a cremation rate at 59.3% in 2022 and rising, more families are exploring ash scattering options. You can use several ways to memorialize your loved one when scattering cremated remains. Here, we have outlined some ‘safe’ ash scattering guidelines and covered some options for families wishing to conduct an ash scattering ceremony or memorial.

How to Scatter Ashes

Where Can Ashes Be Scattered

Scattering By Sea

Memorial Reefs

Memorial Garden Ash Scattering

Cremation Diamonds

Scattering By Air

Cremation Fireworks

Balloon Scattering

Ashes Scattered into Space

Niche and Quirky Options for Ash Scattering

Cremated remains, ‘cremains,’ and ash scattering

Once a body is cremated, the remains, which are often called cremains, are not “ashes” in the usual sense. They are dried bone fragments that have been pulverized. They have a sand-like consistency and often contain small portions of bone. 

Ashes from a cremation are not in any way a health risk. They may be kept or released in various ways and in many locations. You may want to consider keeping a portion and letting the rest go.

Once the ashes are scattered, they are gone forever. Consider keeping a small portion of the ashes in case you or someone in your family someday wants to have them as a remembrance or use them in jewelry or other keepsakes. 

A variety of options for ash scattering have been available in the U.S. for a number of years.  In addition to the traditional notion of ashes being placed in a container and preserved in a columbarium or buried, ashes may also be scattered in a chosen place.

The laws governing ash scattering differ between States, but as cremation is increasing in popularity, so too are the variable and creative options for how and where ashes can be scattered. 

The most important factor is to respect the wishes of the deceased, and the scattering of their ashes should be performed as part of their wishes or as a legacy in tribute to their memory.

How to Scatter Ashes

If you are choosing to perform your own ash scattering, there are several techniques you should consider when scattering ashes:

Scatter ashes into the air
Scattering is simply releasing ashes from a container. It is best to have one person at a time control the release from the container while others look on.  People can take turns doing a partial scattering one at a time. A group may scatter ashes simultaneously in a toast-like gesture using smaller individual containers for each portion of ashes. 

Check the direction of the wind and scatter the ashes downwind. Ashes are mostly made up of a dense sand-like matter and will quickly fall to the ground, but some of it will be a fine powder, and this will become airborne, forming a whitish-grey cloud. 

Scatter ashes into a shallow trench
A shallow trench or groove is dug in the soil. The ashes are ceremonially poured into the trench, and at the conclusion of the ceremony, the trench is covered with soil. The trench can take the shape of a heart or spell out a word. 

Some people scatter ashes using the trench technique on a beach and time it so the tide breaks down the trench and washes the ashes out to sea. Like watching a sand castle be taken into the tide. 

Scatter ashes into a particular shape
Ashes are poured into a circle, star, heart, or other shapes. Some like to have the shape surrounding a collection of candles, flowers, or some significant objects. Pouring the ashes into a particular shape will require holding the container close to the earth. 

Scatter ashes by raking the ashes into loose soil
Ashes are ceremonially poured evenly on loose soil and raked into the ground. This technique is often used in scattering gardens. 

Scatter ashes by burial
A hole is dug at least a foot deep, and the ashes can either be poured into the hole or a biodegradable urn can be placed in the hole and covered. 

Scatter ashes into a body of water
Be aware of the wind direction if scattering into the air on a beach.  You don’t want the ashes unexpectedly blowing back at you. Remember, some of the ashes are a fine powder that will become airborne, forming a whitish-grey cloud.

Scattering into a body of water is best from a dock or from a boat where you can make sure and have the wind at your back. 

Consider using a scattering urn.

Several companies make water-soluble urns designed to float in the water for a few minutes and then slowly sink or disintegrate. 

At some point in the scattering ceremony, people often toss flowers or petals into the water as a tribute. The flowers or petals float on top of the water as the ashes sink.

Where can ashes be scattered?

Most people will not be unfamiliar with the cultural practice of scattering ashes in the favorite place of a loved one.  This can be considered quite normal practice if the chosen place is public and part of the natural landscape. 

Many cemeteries are now re-landscaping their grounds to provide additional green space with cultivated trees and benches as reflective memorial areas where the bereaved can scatter ashes and have a place to return to. 

If you wish to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a public area, you should check State laws. Check out our State Funeral Guides to learn more about scattering cremated remains in your state.

Speak to your funeral director for further guidance, but do be sure to adhere to your wish, as some funeral homes are more likely to steer you towards scattering or cremation interment within their designated memorial grounds.

It is also not uncommon for someone’s last wish to involve having their ashes scattered in a favorite or significant place.

Many choose to have their ashes scattered near home, like in the garden or flowerbeds, or perhaps have ashes scattered around a favorite tree or bush.

Some even choose to scatter ashes off the deck or by the patio. A farmer might have ashes scattered over his land, perhaps be plowed into their field, and a memorial placed at the edge of the field. These places are popular because the home is convenient, and it is easy to establish a memorial on your property.

Having ashes scattered in a place with special meaning to the deceased is also popular. This scattering site might be a place of recreation like a golf course, hunting grounds, fishing hole, hiking trail, mountain, or ski trail.

There is no limit when it comes to scattering ashes. Remember the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.”

Scattering By Sea

Scattering ashes can be considered a more natural final disposition, plus it can provide us with a sense of freedom and oneness with nature. This is probably why outdoor settings of natural beauty are often desired.

Scattering over bodies of water has been a favorite, considering that all life began in the sea. It is the sea from which we came, and eventually, life flows back to the sea.

Many see scattering ashes over water or water burial as the fastest route to the greatest dispersal. If being scattered far and wide is the goal, then the sea is appropriate.  Many companies offer ash scattering services at sea, especially close to coastal areas. 

Many businesses offer unattended or attended scattering at-sea packages, from chartering a small yacht to a full memorial ceremony aboard a large sailing vessel.  Prices vary enormously but usually start from as little as $100. 

Memorial Reefs

For those who have a passion for the ocean but who are looking for something different than a standard scattering at sea – there are now a number of companies that offer memorialized cremation in ocean reefs. 

If you are looking for something alternative to an ash scattering at sea, then one of these man-made reef memorials may be for you.  Prices can start from in the region of $2,495. 

Memorial Ash Scattering Gardens

It is possible to arrange to have your loved one’s cremated remains scattered in a dedicated Memorial Park.  For many, this can be a way to offer a uniquely symbolic final resting place.  More cemeteries have added dedicated Cremation Memorial Garden space to their existing land. This does allow for a lower-cost permanent memorial location within an established Memorial Park.

Creating a Memorial Diamond or Cremation Diamond

If you have decided, or your loved one requested, to have their cremated remains scattered, you may still want to have some small personalized memorial tribute.

You can scatter their ashes in your/their chosen place and still retain a small portion of their remains to be converted into a unique memorial diamond. 

When an adult is cremated, about 2 kg of ashes are produced. Usually, about 500 grams are required for the process of converting the carbon DNA into a diamond.  This means that you can still perform an ash scattering with the remaining ashes.

A memorial diamond is exactly the same in its synthesis as a natural diamond. Only the process is performed in a laboratory and is speeded up.  But the diamond that is created is essentially a pure gemstone and absolutely unique in that it is a signature of the DNA of the person from which it was created.

A cremation diamond can be kept in a presentation box or, more commonly, crafted into a special piece of jewelry so that it can be kept close at all times and handed forward through generations.

Scattering by Air

The other popular choice for those interested in ash scattering is scattering by air, which can be over sea or land.   Professionals usually do this when the ashes are cast from a private plane.  Some of them will coordinate with your ceremony to fly over and scatter the ashes at a specified place and time, and on clear days, a cloud of ash can be seen from the ground.

Most professionals will provide a certificate of the place, time, and even photos. Some will allow passengers to attend the scattering of ashes for an extra fee.  Prices can start at around $250. 

Scattering at Sea from a Cruise Ship

Due to the growing interest from passengers asking to scatter the remains of a loved one who loved cruising from a Cruise Ship, this is now being accommodated by several Cruise Lines.

Click here to read more about Scattering Cremated Remains from a Cruise Ship.

Cremation Fireworks

A more contemporary option for ash scattering is to have ashes scattered by exploding fireworks. These are special fireworks displays that contain a number of fireworks specially modified to incorporate cremated remains. 

A nighttime display of firework scattering might be the perfect memorial and the way to say goodbye.   Restrictions on fireworks displays will apply. Some areas, such as national parks in the United States, require a scattering permit and probably will prohibit fireworks.

Permission should be sought if fireworks scatter ashes, such as baseball stadiums, over people’s gathering areas. Fireworks can scatter cremated remains over private property with the owner’s permission.

Check with local authorities to ensure that your fireworks display is legal.   Some companies that offer this service also conduct fireworks displays over the sea.  Prices start in the region of $3,000.

Balloon Scattering

Another mode of ash scattering by air involves a small portion of cremated remains being placed inside a huge helium-filled balloon.  After its release, the balloon travels up to an altitude of approximately five miles. At that height, the temperature is 40 degrees below zero. The balloon crystalizes and fractures when it cools at this temperature, scattering the ashes.  The balloon is biodegradable and, therefore, eco-friendly. 

Ashes Scattered into Space

…..From the stars we are born, to the stars, we will return…..
The Memorial Spaceflight of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, brought this to the public by launching a symbolic portion of his cremated remains into space.  Leaving Earth to touch the cosmos is an experience few have ever known, but many have often dreamed of.

Celestis Memorial Spaceflights makes it possible to honor the dream and memory of your departed loved one by launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface, or into deep space. Missions into space that return the cremated remains to Earth are also available. A small portion of cremated remains is taken aboard a commercial or scientific space mission, placed into Earth’s orbit, or returned to Earth.

Starting prices are between $695 – $12,500, dependent on services.

Beach Ash Scattering – ‘Life’s a beach, and then you die’! 

“Beaching” is a term that describes the slow release of cremated remains into the ocean by digging channels in the sand close to the ocean edge, filling these channels with the ashes of your loved one, and then slowly watching as the ebb and flow of the water absorbs them. 

This can often be conducted as the sun sets, making it a beautiful and tranquil method to disperse ashes and hold a reflective memorial service on your chosen beach.

Often, people choose to write something memorable in the sand, such as “Goodbye Dad.  In our Hearts Forever”.  This kind of ash scattering service is extremely easy to carry out yourself, with no costs and generally no permit required. 

It is advisable to ensure you choose a quiet beach and avoid tourist spots.  You can dress up the beach with candles and flowers and even digitally record the ‘beaching’ memorial.

There are some important things to consider to get your ‘beaching’ ceremony right.  You need to know the tides on the beach of your choice – you want to be guaranteed the tide will wash over your ash-filled channels!  And you want to ensure that the channels are both deep enough that the ashes do not blow away but shallow enough that the cremains will wash into the ocean!

Art from Ashes – Glass-blown jewelry, vases & sun catchers

This seems yet another novel, yet quite artistic, way to do something to immortalize your loved one with their ashes.  A small amount of cremated remains can be used and handcrafted into the blown glass while creating a unique piece of glass art.  The finished piece is then hand-inscribed with a memorial message. 

Art from Ashes is a Massachusetts company that works with a number of talented artists who produce these remembrance keepsakes.  The process can all be completed remotely, or you can visit their workshop site.  Only a small amount of cremated remains are required, and you can order anything from cufflinks to a large suncatcher or even commission a unique sculpture of your choice. 

Some of their glass bead jewelry and glass keyrings make an ideal, inexpensive means to always keep a memento of your loved one with you.

Prices start from around $150, depending on what size and type of glass artifact you choose.  The process usually takes about 3-5 weeks, depending on the artists’ workloads and the type of remembrance artifact you select.

Memorial Body Inking – ‘Ashes to ashes, Dust to…Tattoo’!

Commemorative tattooing is a rather bizarre trend for using a small portion of cremated remains to be mixed in with tattoo ink and then permanently inked under the skin in a tattoo design.  Not for the faint-hearted…but as tattoos have become so popular in culture today, many people feel that they make a lasting tribute and something very unusual and personalized to do with their loved one’s ashes.

The trend initially started as people chose to have a tattoo to pay tribute and immortalize a lost loved one, and then actually putting some of the ashes into the tattoo became an incremental spin on the tribute. 

Those who have opted for this claim that it enables them to “carry a part of” their lost loved one with them at all times!

Although the medical profession has its concerns, stating that putting a ‘foreign’ substance into the body can cause either rejection or infection, some tattooists claim they have been performing this safely for years.

Niche and Quirky Options for Ash Scattering

As the cremation rate in the U.S. continues to grow, and as we seek unique and personalized alternatives to commemorate our lost loved ones, many new and often quirky cremated remains industries are emerging.

“And Vinyly”……..Live on from beyond the Groove!
A businessman in the UK who has long worked within the music industry has launched a service and website that offers to press ashes into a vinyl record.  This service may appeal to those of you who can remember vinyl records but may become a short-lived enterprise in the digital world.

Vinyly can press the ashes into a record made from your own voice or a favorite track of your choice, and they even offer ‘Rest In Vinyl (RIV) artwork to create a sleeve that immortalizes you.

Their basic package is just over $3,000 and includes 30 ash-infused vinyl discs with standard artwork.

“Never forget a face!”

Cremation Solutions, a U.S. cremation product company, has now introduced a rather strange cremation urn receptacle.  You can now create a personalized urn made in the 3D image of your loved one!  They are constructed using one or two photographs of your loved one, or the company even offers to create one in the image of your “favorite hero”! 

The ‘Personal Urn’ is available in two sizes, both keepsake at 6” tall, costing a mere $600, and full-sized at 11” tall, which will cost you $2,600.

“Holy Smoke”….Ashes to Ammunition.

Another new niche ash scattering option has come to market, and one that many American hunters may love, adding cremated remains to shotgun pellets and quite literally creating ‘holy smoke.’  This could certainly be a way of ‘going out with a bang’! 

Two state game wardens from Alabama came up with the idea after joking about how neat it would be to be able to honor a lost loved one who lived for the outdoors by filling pistol shells with cremated remains and inviting surviving family and friends to celebrate a life lived, in a unique way.

The cost of their services starts at $850.00.   They provide ammunition containing your loved one’s ashes in each shell or cartridge.

For the shotgunner:
250 shotshells shipped in fifty-round, labeled, plastic shotshell carriers with handles.

For the rifle shooter:
100 cartridges in standard calibers, shipped in labeled plastic cartridge carriers.

For the pistol shooter:
250 cartridges in standard calibers, shipped in labeled plastic cartridge carriers.

Carbon Copies – ‘Rest in Pieces Pencil Box’ Project

Artist Nadine Jarvis creates pencils from the carbon in cremated remains.  240 pencils can be made from the average body of ash, and each can be engraved with the deceased’s name and birth and death dates.  The box containing the pencils comes with an inbuilt pencil sharpener.  It dispenses one pencil at a time and stores the pencil shavings as they accumulate, creating a memorial pencil box urn.

Portraits from Ashes & ‘Etch-a-sketch’ with a difference!

A Bay area artist, Raven J. Collins, gained some notoriety by making portraits using cremated remains.  Some ashes are mixed into the paint, creating a ‘living’ memorial portrait.  A commissioned work costs between $200 and $400.

It has also been known for a sketch to be constructed using cremated remains and then sealed using a polymer or glass.

Cremation Plan

Suspended in Time Forever….with an hourglass figure!

I like this offering – you can have cremated remains encased with an hourglass and made into a unique keepsake urn.  The hourglass has existed for centuries as a measurement of time.  So this presents an unusual way to suspend time forever for your lost loved one.  The structure of the hourglass is beautifully crafted from wood with a measure of cremated remains contained within the glass. 

It is even possible to have both parents’ ashes co-mingled in the hourglass – the ultimate and ancient symbol for the passage of time.  This keepsake urn can become a family heirloom to be passed down through generations.

Prices range from between $350 – $450.

Snowflake Burial

Yes, I know you are thinking, “WHAT?”….. this is the novel new ash scattering option offered by a Kentucky company ‘Mesoloft’ that enables your loved one’s remains to be taken into the stratosphere to a height where they can be released and fall back to earth, converting into ice particles as they transgress through the atmosphere – thereby falling from the sky as snowflakes – ergo a ‘snowflake burial’!  So it’s Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to…Snowflakes!

The cremated remains are loaded into a weather balloon sent 20 miles above the earth.  The cremation ashes are released into the atmosphere, where they drift throughout the upper reaches of the stratosphere for weeks, maybe months, before returning to Earth as water vapor condenses on the ash particles, causing them to fall back to the planet.

This is an amazing way to co-mingle the base element of a person (carbon) back with the planet’s natural ecosystem!  As the ashes return to earth as raindrops or snowflakes, you could say that the ‘essence’ of that person is infused into the living elements of our planet as those raindrops or snowflakes settle onto mountain tops, oceans, lakes, rivers, and tropical forests.

Mind you, arranging a snowflake funeral does not come cheap!  Launches are available from 3 sites in New Mexico, Indiana, and Colorado.  A standard launch package costs $2,800.  This includes the launch and release of the cremated remains (at 75,000 feet), a video of the launch to landing, and a commemorative book.

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Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 15 years.