Questions are often asked about the cremation of human remains and what can be done with the ashes.

Last updated: 01 September 2022

How are cremation ashes prepared?

Following the cremation of a deceased person, the ashes are removed into a metal container and allowed to cool. Once cooled, the ashes are loaded into a homogeniser, some of which use a metal ball in a rotating drum to reduce the size of the larger particles. The ashes are subsequently packed into a labelled plastic container and/or the name plate is attached before being stored in a secure area.

Can micro-organisms remain in cremation ashes?

Cremation occurs at such a hot temperature all micro-organisms are destroyed, and the remaining ashes are inert. After cremation there are no public health risks associated with handling ashes.

What does a cremation authority have to do with cremated remains?

Under section 109 of the Public Health Regulation 2022 the cremation authority must either:

  • give the cremated remains to the applicant, or
  • dispose of the cremated remains in a burial ground or in land adjoining the crematory reserved for the burial of cremated remains, or
  • otherwise retain or dispose of the cremated remains.

The cremated remains are to be given to the applicant (usually a family member). If the applicant does not take the ashes within a reasonable time, the cremation authority must give 14 days' notice of disposal to the applicant. If the ashes are not collected the cremation authority may dispose of the ashes.

What can be done with the ashes once I collect them?

The person who lodges an application for a cremation, often a relative or the executor of the estate, should arrange to collect the ashes.

Once the ashes have been collected, they can be:

  • buried in a cemetery in a small plot or placed in a columbarium or niche wall
  • preserved in a decorative urn and kept at home or some other favourite spot
  • with consent of the owner, scattered on private land
  • with consent, scattered at a beach, river, public park or at sea, at a place that was significant to the deceased or their families, or following the personal wishes of the deceased.

Do you need permission to scatter the ashes?

Yes, it is important to get permission to scatter ashes from the owners of private land or the Trustee of parks and reserves, or from local council for parks, beaches and playing fields as scattering of ashes may contravene the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in terms of air or water pollution. Councils and other Government Authorities may set a time and place when scattering of ashes can be undertaken and can impose other conditions.

Approval is not required from the Public Health Unit to scatter ashes.

Things you need to consider when you scatter ashes

It is important to carefully choose the place where you scatter the ashes of your loved ones. Access to the place may be restricted for some reason in the future; undeveloped land may be developed, or many other conditions may arise that could make it difficult for you to visit the site to remember the deceased. Even if ashes are scattered in the backyard, what happens if you sell sometime in the future? Once scattered, the ashes cannot be recovered.

Consideration should be given to the weather conditions at the time of scattering the ashes. Avoid the wind/breeze blowing ashes onto people. Breathing in ashes may cause respiratory distress for some people and may aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Scattering in waterways or at sea

You must get permission from the master of a vessel or boat before scattering the ashes overboard. Vessels can be chartered specifically to scatter ashes. Some precautions should be observed:

  • Pre-loosen the lid of the ashes container or pre-drill large holes to make it easier to remove the lid or scatter the ashes when on board.
  • Be aware of the wind direction and scatter close to the water.
  • Never just throw the ashes container overboard as it will float. Always empty the container into the sea and dispose of the empty container in a thoughtful manner.

Taking cremated ashes overseas

It is possible to take cremated ashes overseas provided the following actions are taken.

  • The person should contact the consulate for the country the ashes are being taken to in order to comply with local requirements.
  • The person will need to:
    • carry the ashes in a sealed urn/container in hand luggage, and
    • have a copy of the death certificate of the deceased person, and
    • have a copy of a statement from the crematorium identifying the deceased person, the date and place the body was cremated.

Approval is not required from the Public Health Unit to transport ashes overseas.

Further advice

Current as at: Thursday 1 September 2022
Contact page owner: Environmental Health