The consequence of scattering ‘ashes’

You may have seen the photo of Krystal Clayton spreading a small portion of her nan’s ashes at the SCG? She took the opportunity when fans swarmed Buddy Franklin after he kicked his 1,000th AFL goal.

In November 2013, at least six families took the opportunity to spread their person’s ashes on the Melbourne Cricket Ground during an open day. But they scattered much larger amounts than Krystal did. And there lies the issue. (And the reason why sporting grounds no longer have open days.)

At the time, the MCC warned people against trying to secretly scatter remains. Club spokesman Shane Brown told the ABC that “in the ashes there are small fragments of bone and that can be quite sharp and jagged and for footballers and cricketers running across the turf that can be quite dangerous”.

“The most important message for anyone who wants to do this is to understand that over time their loved one’s ashes will actually be removed from the MCG and discarded into waste, because we replace the turf quite regularly as part of our maintenance program,” he said.

Ashes myth busting

Now, let’s bust a couple of myths I’ve been seeing online in response to part of Krystal’s grandmother being scattered on the SCG.

“It’s just ash.” FALSE!

Cremated remains are not ‘ash’. They are bone fragments. After the cremation process, many parts of the bones are left intact though very brittle. They are then broken down into smaller bits in what’s called a cremulator. The cremulator grinds the bones down into very small fragments or powder, resembling ‘ash’. They’re often described as coarse sand.

“It’s good fertiliser, like blood and bone meal.” ABSOLUTELY FALSE!

Cremated remains are bones that have been burned at about 900 degree Celcius for around 90 minutes. They’re not ‘ashes’ at all. They’re ground up bone. These cremains have a very high pH and this alkalinity can be toxic to plants. Any nutrient values the bones held before cremation (calcium, potassium, phosphorous) are null and void after cremation because they become locked away and unusable. When you scatter ashes, you may as well be scattering salt. (Yes, it’s time we spoke about the environmental consequences of scattering ashes! And no, you cannot grow a tree out of cremated remains.)

Reducing environmental damage

I think it’s great that Krystal took part of her nan to the footy in a zip-lock bag. I know many people who carry cremains around with them. Some look for opportunities to scatter them, while others just like having their loved one with them on occasions. The cremated remains after a cremation usually weigh between one and two kilos, depending on the body type of the person cremated. From watching the video, I can see that Krystal scattered a small portion of her nan’s ashes on the SCG. That’s the key to ensuring minimal environmental damage.

If you’re planting a tree in memory of your loved one and want to incorporate their cremains, make sure you mix the cremains with lots of soil and keep the cremains away from the roots. It’s all about dilution. There are products being developed that you can treat the cremains with, allowing the eventual release of those nutrients that are tied up in the bone fragments and making the cremains much more environmentally friendly.

If you’ve got any questions, pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$12.99 on Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

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