As cremation grows in popularity, Neptune Society is often asked about the legality of scattering a loved one’s ashes. Scattering has become an increasingly popular and meaningful way to remember a loved one and provides each family a unique way to celebrate their loved one in a place that was special to them during their life or perhaps offers a chance to visit a place their loved one desired to go but was never able to see while they were alive.
According to Lori Adamson, Service Manager of Neptune Society of San Antonio, “Some people find comfort in being scattered in a place that they loved in life. The burden of wondering what will happen to their urn over time is lifted from their mind. Others may also find it healing to know their ashes will not be a constant reminder to their family that they have passed.”
However, Neptune Society advises you to proceed with caution when planning to scatter the ashes of your loved one. Each state has its own laws on scattering, and in the case of scattering ashes over water, federal law may take precedence over state law. So as part of your planning, check local and state laws and familiarize yourself with any federal laws that may apply to an over-water scattering.
In most states, ashes can be scattered over land on private property with the permission of the owner or on public lands with permission of the governing agency. For example, Texas law states that a person may scatter cremated remains over uninhabited public land, over a public waterway or sea, or on the private property of a consenting owner. Texas law also states that unless the container is biodegradable, the cremated remains must be removed from the container before being scattered.
By contrast, California’s laws state that ashes may only be disposed of by scattering in a cemetery scattering garden, or scattering where there is no local prohibition and with written permission of the property owner or governing agency. Ashes may also be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum, buried in a cemetery, stored at home, or stored in a church or other religious structure.
If ashes are to be scattered over water, the Federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.
Ashes scattered at sea must be in a container that will easily decompose or the container must be disposed of separately. Ashes may not be scattered at beaches or wading pools, and the EPA should be notified within 30 days of scattering.
Neptune Society offers a unique and more permanent alternative to scattering ashes at sea– the Neptune Memorial Reef. The reef lies 3.25 miles off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, and when completed it will cover 16 acres of ocean floor. To be memorialized here, the individual’s cremains are mixed with concrete, shaped into forms such as sea stars or shells, marked with identifying information, and placed on the ocean floor. These forms create shelter for marine life, giving ocean lovers a chance to continue to “give life after life.”
Many families choose to scatter ashes by air. Most states do not have any laws prohibiting this, but federal law does prohibit dropping any objects that might injure people or harm property. Cremains themselves are not considered hazardous material, but for obvious safety reasons you should remove the ashes from their container before scattering them by air.
Whether you choose to scatter ashes in a special place or another option, Neptune Society can help make the experience of remembering your loved one unique and special. Contact us today to learn how Neptune Society can help you honor and celebrate your loved one’s life.
Special thanks to Lori Adamson, Service Manager of Neptune Society San Antonio for her support and contributions to this post.