Death and end-of-life plans are often considered taboo conversation topics in our society, but they are slowly becoming more acceptable. With more people making end-of-life arrangements as part of their estate plans, creative ways to be put to rest or to dispose of remains have become a trend.
While there are many who prefer traditional interments after embalming, there is a growing community of people who prefer cremation so their ashes (or cremains) can remain at home and surrounded by family or in a columbarium. Some even choose to donate their bodies to science.
Regardless of whether you want to stick with tradition or try something more modern, it’s important to research whether or not your burial preference is feasible or legal. For example, people who want a Tibetan Sky Burial or a Viking Funeral are out of luck because there are common and statutory laws that prohibit certain treatments and disposals of human remains other than burial, entombment, or cremation.
It’s also important that, once you’ve chosen your preferred disposal method, you make your plans known to your loved ones or a funeral director to ensure your final wishes for burial are followed.
What can I do with my remains?
There seem to be limitless possibilities for what you can do with your remains—the emerging industry for being laid to rest outside of typical interment is growing.
From fireworks to diamonds, here’s a list of some creative ways to store, treat, or disperse your remains and some of the businesses that specialize in the methods:
- Become a brilliant firework display: A British company, Heavenly Stars Fireworks, takes remains and uses them in their fireworks for a final, brilliant memorial display.
- Launch your remains into space: You can have Celestis or Elysium Space put your remains on a spacecraft and launch them to the moon or beyond. They also have tracking devices so your loved one can check in on your celestial journey.
- Become a vinyl record: Andvinyly will press your ashes into a vinyl record. You can have it play your favorite tracks or include audio of your own (like you speaking or singing) so that your loved ones can have an auditory memorial of you.
- Get pressed into a diamond: LifeGem creates diamonds with your remains. Many people have the gems socketed into memorial jewelry.
- Freeze yourself: The Cryonics Institute freezes legally dead people in hopes that they might be revived in the future.
Some people want their remains to give back to the environment and participate more actively in the circle of life rather than being traditionally buried in a graveyard, or made into a piece of jewelry. The push for eco-friendly burials has been partly motivated by concerns over the disposal of chemical wastes from the embalming process and how those wastes contribute to pollution.
Here are some eco-friendly alternatives (also known as green burials):
- Feed mushrooms: Jae Rhim Lee and Coeio have pioneered the Infinity Burial Suit, a handcrafted garment laced with a “biomix” of mushroom mycelium and other microorganisms that aid in decomposition, neutralize toxins found in the body, and transfer nutrients in the remains to plant life.
- Become part of a reef: Eternal Reefs and The Neptune Society are companies that use cremains as part of the foundation for man-made reefs in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The cremains are mixed with concrete and shaped into various forms that eventually become shelter for sea life.
- Grow into a tree: You can place your cremains in a Bios Urn and your loved ones can watch a beautiful tree emerge over the coming years. The urn is biodegradable, and Bios has a variety of tree species to pick from.
- Become freeze-dried fertilizer: Promessa is a Swedish company that freezes remains using cryonic techniques, and then they turn the frozen remains into memorial plaques that, when buried, act as powerful plant fertilizer.
Can you scatter ashes or store remains anywhere?
Legally-speaking, scattering ashes is a bit of a gray area. So far there is no federal law stating that you can or can’t scatter ashes wherever you want on land. It is typically an issue handled by state governance or municipal bylaws, so it’s best to do some research into your state and city’s specific guidelines.
There isn’t much regulation for scattering on uncontrolled public land like rural, wooded areas. For controlled public areas like a city park, you might be required to get a permit from your municipality.
There aren’t a ton of resources or personnel devoted to monitoring how people dispose of remains, so it’s recommended that you use your judgment and take the environment into account. If you’re leaving ashes in the woods, for example, make sure to either use a biodegradable container or dispose of the container separately after releasing the cremains.
If you’re scattering ashes on private property, it’s best to have permission to do so from the owner of the property. There isn’t necessarily a hard-and-fast rule saying you have to, but it’s considered good practice to ask someone for permission before leaving human remains on their land.
There also doesn’t seem to be many regulations about “casting remains to the wind,” so you could possibly just hop onto a private, chartered aircraft and let the ashes fly out the window. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t prohibit it, but usually pilots must be flying at a specified minimum altitude before ashes can be released, and the FAA would prefer it if nothing hazardous to people on the ground (like an urn or container) leaves the plane during flight.
Can I get buried at sea?
Burials-at-sea are always popular because many people feel strong ties to the ocean—seafarers and beachcombers alike.
You can absolutely be buried at sea. There are, however, some regulations for leaving human remains at sea set out by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They require you to get a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, and, in some cases, you might even be required to get a special permit to commit certain disposal acts (disposing of non-human remains like pets, for example).
Generally, the rules are as follows:
- Human remains must be disposed of no closer than three nautical miles to the shoreline
- Non-readily decomposable materials, like urns or canisters, cannot be thrown into the water, they must be disposed of in an ecologically-friendly way on land
- All burials must be reported in writing to the EPA within 30 days
- Non-cremated remains can be buried at sea as well, so long as measures are taken to ensure that the body sinks with no chance of resurfacing and that the non-cremated remains come from a single, deceased human
Planning for your funeral
Planning is what’s important. It’s a good idea to include a copy of your burial and funeral preferences with your other estate planning documents like your Last Will and Testament, Healthcare Directive, and Power of Attorney, so whoever is in charge of your estate has full access to all of your last wishes.
At the very least, voicing your wishes to your loved ones ensures there won’t be any disagreements about how to lay you to rest when the time comes. This is especially useful if certain family members disagree with how you want to be buried or scattered—not everyone in your family might approve of your remains being interred in a mushroom suit or being launched into space. Planning in advance can give you the opportunity to explain your decisions and give everyone some peace of mind.
Planning out your desired funeral arrangements and doing your research will also help to confirm if your final resting plans are legally viable.
We’ve also written a full guide on Preplanning Your Funeral, which has plenty of tips and advice on how to make your funeral planning as easy and stress-free as possible.
How do you want to have your remains stored or disposed of?