Many myths surround the practice of scattering cremated ashes. It doesn't help that the laws are often complicated, confusing or nonexistent. Knowing what the laws are or who to ask about them can save you from a lot of frustration and worry. One of the most common myths is that scattering cremated ashes is a hazard to the public's health. The truth is, once a human body has been cremated, it is no longer considered a health risk, so cremated ashes are usually not something federal or state officials are concerned with, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance website.
Public land such as parks, public gardens and streets all have their own rules and regulations that have been set by the town. No state or federal laws exist about spreading ashes on these types of property. Check with the town officials if you want to spread ashes in these areas. Spreading cremated ashes on uninhabited public land such as rural woods is generally allowed, but you should also check with town officials. Follow general etiquette and refrain from scattering ashes on trails or obvious places because some people find scattering cremated remains offensive.
To scatter cremated ashes on private land, ask the owner for permission first. The permission can be verbal or written. If the owner refuses, do not attempt to access the land, or you can be charged with trespassing. You are allowed to spread ashes on your own private property. You are also allowed to keep cremated ashes in an urn or container on your own property or in your home. If you are not sure if an area of land is private or public, check with your town hall first or consult a town map.
Federal law states that spreading ashes on the sea, which is considered a burial at sea, must be done at least 3 miles away from the shore. Federal law also requires that you report the burial at sea to the closest Environmental Protection Agency office within a month of the burial. Spreading ashes in inland waterways, such as rivers and lakes, falls under the Clean Water Act and may require a permit from the local government. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance website, these laws are designed to protect waterways from pollution and because cremated human remains are not a health hazard, it is not usually enforced in these cases.
Scattering cremated ashes in public graveyards is usually allowed, although some towns have recently passed laws banning the practice, so check with your town officials. The ashes are generally spread on a grave, in a crypt or in a scattering garden within the graveyard. To scatter ashes on old family graveyards found on private property, you must ask for permission from the landowner. If you are scattering the ashes on another person's grave, such as a friend or relative, ask the immediate family of that person for permission first.
- Funeral Consumers Alliance: Scatter-brained - All About Cremation and What's Left
- Full Circle Care: End of Life Legal Questions and Answers for NC Residents
- Funeral Plan: What Are the Regulations for Scattering Ashes?
- "Grave Matters"; Mark Harris; 2008
- "The Virginia Pilot"; Norfolk Bans Scattering of Loved Ones' Ashes on Other Graves; Cindy Clayton; December; 2010