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The complete guide to scattering ashes outdoors

An ash scattering ceremony is a beautiful way to celebrate the life of someone who chose to be cremated. It allows guests to reflect while spreading their ashes in a meaningful place. Over the years you can return to that place to feel close to them and reminisce about the impact they had on your life. But how do you plan a ceremony to spread your loved one’s ashes? Read this guide to learn what you need to know to host your own ash scattering ceremony. 

Guide to scattering ashes outdoors

There are many ways to scatter ashes outdoors. You can choose a place such as your favorite vacation spot, somewhere you loved to visit together, or another meaningful outdoor location. Or maybe you recently lost a pet, and you want to scatter their ashes outdoors in a special tribute. 

After you decide where you’d like to scatter the ashes, you’ll need to research laws and requirements for the location, decide what the ceremony will look like, and think about the act of scattering ashes outdoors, where natural elements and weather can come into play. 

Storing cremated remains

After a cremation, crematoria are required to safely store the ashes in a durable container with a lid. You will have the option to select an urn, box, or some other container. If a container is not selected, you will likely receive the ashes in a plastic bag. 

Before the ceremony, you’ll want to examine the cremated remains and decide how you would like to store and transport them for the ceremony. Know that the cremains will not look like ashes from your fireplace. In addition to ashes, there will be bits of bone. Examining the ashes ahead of time will prepare you for what they actually look like and any emotional response you may have. 

Some questions to ask the crematory are:

  • Are the ashes inside an urn? 
  • Is the lid easy to take off? 
  • Is there a plastic bag inside the urn? 
  • Do you need to open the plastic bag prior to scattering? 
  • Have the cremated remains become compact during storage? 
  • Can I transfer the cremains into another or multiple containers to make scattering easier?

Consider how to secure the remains before transporting them to the spreading location, and how you’ll provide easy access when the time comes to spread them. 

Or you might want to transfer the cremains into another container for the ceremony, such as a scattering tube, which ranges from simple, more natural tubes from a local craft store to elaborate ones available online. Often it can be hard to get every bit of the cremains out of a plastic bag, so keep that in mind.

Cremains can get stuck to your skin when you touch them. If you need to transfer them to a different container, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and use a spoon. To remove them entirely from a container a bit of water can be helpful, but this will also make the ashes a mud-like consistency. 

How to spread ashes outdoors

When scattering ashes outdoors, you’ll need to pay attention to the direction the wind is blowing. It’s important to release the ashes with the wind blowing away from you and other guests. 

Spreading ashes on land

If you are spreading ashes in a forest or at a special memorial tree, you can also put the ashes in the dirt and mix them in with the soil. You can also dig a shallow trench and bury the ashes. If you are in a public location, make sure you are scattering ashes away from other people. 

Keep in mind that some of the cremains will blow into the wind, but the heavier parts (bone fragments) will drop to the ground.

Spreading ashes in water

Wind direction is especially relevant for ashes spread at sea or near water where it can be windier. Make sure you are releasing the ashes with the wind.

If scattering ashes at sea, a nice addition is to also release some flowers into the water. You can also purchase a biodegradable urn if you want to keep the ashes together as you release them into the ocean.

Since the ashes typically scatter very quickly once released, you might ask someone to take photos of the moment so that you can have a reminder. Also, you don’t have to scatter all of the ashes at one time. You can save some to scatter in other locations or even keep in an urn with you.

Ash-spreading ceremonies

While you don’t need to have a ceremony in your plans for scattering ashes outdoors, it’s a nice way to remember your loved one who has passed. You can include anything that reminds you of them, from poetry and readings to songs and dances. 

You’ll want to choose someone to be in charge of the flow of the service, and you’ll need to determine the order of events. If you ask attendees to participate in the ceremony, such as reading or singing, make sure you do it ahead of time so they’re prepared. 

Is it illegal to spread ashes?

Once you’ve decided on a location you’ll want to research rules regarding scattering ashes outdoors there. For example, national forests and public places often allow you to scatter ashes, so check their website for information on how to do this legally. 

If you are scattering on private property, you’ll typically need permission from the landowner. 

Want to scatter the ashes on the water? You can scatter in the ocean, but you must be at least three miles from shore. Rivers and lakes are different, though, so check with local authorities. 

Also, search for scattering ashes laws in the city or state where you’ve selected your location.

Who will spread the ashes?

One important thing to decide is who will scatter the ashes. Make sure you tell this person how to get the ashes out of the container prior to the ceremony so there aren’t any issues when it comes time to spread the ashes.

Or maybe you want all guests to participate in spreading the ashes. You can separate the ashes into several portions ahead of time and pass them out as guests arrive. 

Scattering your loved one's ashes is a beautiful ritual that can aid in the grieving process. We hope this guide helps you create a meaningful celebration of life.