October 26, 2022

The Truth About Ashes

The Truth About Ashes

The Power of a Word

In 2021, 79% of all deaths in England ended with cremation - creating 1.4m kilos of remains. If we were to include pets too, the figures could double. It really is a growing problem, but thankfully one with an easy solution. 

It’s a curious thing about cremated remains, that they have become known as ashes. No doubt this is a nod to the cremation process, but it is not a helpful word to use. 

Cremated remains are not ash, they are sterilised bone, more like fossils. When we think of them in this more honest, but less pleasant way, their impact on the soil, water or plants and wildlife seems so obvious. 

Whether we bury or scatter cremated remains, they have a lasting impact on that area. You may have wondered why you can no longer scatter ashes over football grounds or areas like the Cairgorns? Or why do crematoriums need to replace their flower beds so often?

Having seen that 61% of consumers from a recent (Trajectory) survey are unaware of the problems with cremated remains, and 78% of people wanting a more environmentally friendly funeral, we thought it was time to set the record straight. 

What Actually Happens? 

  • The toxicity within cremated remains mainly arises from their very high pH and extremely high levels of sodium (Na).
  • When cremated remains come into contact with water the negative processes are even worse. 
  • Cremation ashes contaminate areas beyond where they are placed – imagine a drop of water on tissue and how it spreads…
  • Cremated remains don’t degrade and become part of the soil, they stay in the ground for many decades, continuing to contaminate the surrounding area.
  • Years of research means this process is now well understood. You can find more detailed information about the science from expert Sherry Yarkosky here.

Avoiding A Second Bereavement

One horrible outcome of planting or scattering a beloved person or pet, alongside a favourite tree or special location, is that the damage caused could result in the death of that plant or area. 

This can cause the feelings of a second loss, another bereavement beginning while the first grief is still being processed. Without knowing what went wrong, we could continue with a new planting, or new grass and still have the same outcome. Layers of grief that could so easily have been avoided.

Memorial plantings are such a good way to retain a living connection to a special person, it’s vital that people are confident their efforts will be successful.  

What Can We Do? 

There are ways to prevent this damage:

  • using an urn to store cremated remains
  • keeping them indoors in a suitable container
  • making jewellery items
  • other memorial items available e.g. stored inside a teddy bear 

If adding cremated remains to soil, simple steps can be taken to not only mitigate the negative effects of cremation ashes on the environment, but to turn them into a benefit for soil, plants, and animals alike. 

Of cause, we recommend using Living Memorial! 

When researching planting or scattering options, always remember to ask about the impact of a product or service. If a company is not able to explain how they manage the environmental impact, it may not be a suitable product. 

It’s also important to understand the difference between a product being environmentally friendly in its creation, and its use. For example, many items are beautifully sustainable until they are buried.