Options for Ashes: Creativity in Life’s Last Chapter

Haruki Murakami once said, “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”  Planning ahead for this inevitable reality not only eases the emotional and logistical burden on loved ones, but also gives you a sense of self-determination. 

As you may know, cremation offers a degree of flexibility and creativity burial does not.  In fact, an ever-growing majority of Americans elect cremation.[1]  Should you choose this avenue, we want you to know what’s out there.  So, we’ve compiled three innovative options for your consideration.

  1. Coral Reef

With this first alternative, you can have ashes mixed into a structure that provides the basis of a gorgeous coral reef.  Eternal Reef’s reef balls, approved by the Green Burial Council[3], are designed to replicate the natural substrata and formation needed for reef development.[4]  In California, Living Reef Memorial provides a similar service for as little as $2,400.[5]  This option is a beautiful memorialization that continuously gives back—perfect for ocean lovers and environmentalists alike.

  1. Jewelry

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but anyone can appreciate the beauty of a gem containing the ashes of a loved one (this option is also available for your loved ones with fur).  Prices vary depending on color and size preference.[6]  Don’t worry if you tend toward a more accessible look—other options, including silver, opal, and glass, are available as well.[7]  Additionally, jewelry can be crafted from hair, for those wishing to be buried.  Keep them close to your heart with a meaningful token of remembrance.

  1. Tree of Life

Another earth-friendly option is a biodegradable urn which allows your remains to become a beautiful place for friends and family to gather in remembrance.  Living Urn is America’s first and leading bio urn.  For less than $150, Living Urn allows purchasers to “Grow a Living Memory” of pets and loved ones.[8]  You may select your own tree or elect to have one sent at the appropriate time for an additional cost. 

A scattering ceremony at sea may be a good fit for those taking a more traditional approach.  You have the option of retaining the services of a company or venturing out to sea on your own.  In California, ashes can legally be scattered in the ocean, barring a local prohibition, but it is important to remember remains must not be scattered within 500 yards of the shoreline.[9]  An alternative to scattering is a biodegradable urn that will dissolve within four hours of being placed in the ocean.[10]  State law requires scatterings to be permitted by the county health department and reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.[11] 

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation or water cremation, accelerates the natural decomposition process, eliminating the need for a burial plot while using less electricity than traditional cremation and eradicating emissions.  This process became legal in California on July 1, 2020.[12]  This alternative to both burial and cremation occurs when remains are submerged in water with a small amount of alkali and the solution is then heated.[13]  According to Bio-Response Solutions, aquamation results in 20% more ash remains being returned to the family.[14] 

Sustainability is paramount for many, even in burial.  In fact, the Green Burial Council is dedicated to helping people find sustainable after-death options.[15]  Several environmentally-friendly burial options include natural burials, mushroom suits, and burial pods.  Natural burial or “green” burial allows the deceased to be reunited with the earth using only biodegradable materials, a hand dug grave, and no traditional embalming.[16]  Beloved TV star, Luke Perry, was buried in a biodegradable mushroom suit, remaining true to his love of nature, even in death.[17]  Finally, a burial pod encapsulates the entire body and is buried with a tree planted above it that will then gather nutrients from the remains.[18]  Burial pods are available and legal in the United States.  California specifically lists natural burials and cemeteries as both legal and preferable, but requires a permit for burials not taking place in an established cemetery.[19] 

At the end of the day, if you want to think outside the box, there are many innovative options available to you, a loved one, even a furry family member.  While there is ultimately nothing we can do to avoid life’s last chapter, a myriad of ways exist to creatively predetermine your final resting state and ease the burden grief places on loved ones.  Take a little time for yourself today to consider your desires or to talk to a loved one about their wishes.  

[1] The U.S. cremation rate in 2018 was 53.1% with a projected rate of 59.4% by 2023.  (Cremation Association of North America (https://www.cremationassociation.org/page/IndustryStatistics))

[2] Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist#Funeral_Fees)

[3] The Green Burial Council (https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/)

[4] Eternal Reefs, The Eternal Reefs Story (https://www.eternalreefs.com/the-eternal-reefs-story/)

[5] Living Reef Memorial (https://livingreefmemorial.com/choose-your-reef/)

[6] Heart in Diamond (https://www.heart-in-diamond.com/)

[7] Spirit Pieces (https://www.spiritpieces.com/)

[8] The Living Urn (https://www.thelivingurn.com/)

[9] HSC § 7117(c)

[10] HSC § 7117.1

[11] https://www.cfb.ca.gov/consumer/funeral.shtml

[12] Assembly Bill No. 967, CHAPTER 846 (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB967)

[13] CA.gov, Cal Recycle, In the Loop, Green Goodbyes (https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/blogs/in-the-loop/in-the-loop/2018/08/02/green-goodbyes#:~:text=Burial%20Pods&text=Currently%20only%20available%20for%20ashes,while%20also%20cleaning%20the%20air)

[14] https://aquamationinfo.com/

[15] https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/

[16] Joshua Tree Memorial Park, Green Burial (http://www.joshuatreememorialpark.com/green-burial/)

[17] “Luke Perry’s daughter says he was buried in a mushroom suit” May 6, 2019


[18] “The biodegradable burial pod that turns your body into a tree” January 11, 2018 (https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/world/eco-solutions-capsula-mundi/index.html)

[19] https://coeio.com/burial-laws-state/