Biodegradable Urns Now Legal Off California Coast


Until June 25, 2012, it was “officially” illegal to use a biodegradable urn, as a method for dispersing human ashes (cremains) at sea. Existing law required that cremated remains be removed from their container before scattering. This obviously applied to non-dissolving urns, such as the hard plastic or “temporary” urns, metal, or other permanent urns, but, as it was written, also applied to ANY container, even those that would dissolve over time.

The old law presented a number of problems for families as well as funeral homes. Funeral Homes regularly purchased biodegradable urns from reputable companies, such as Passages International, and sold them to families planning on carrying out a memorial at sea off the California Coast. No one was really clear on how far-reaching the law was. Even the State was not enforcing the law as it applied to biodegradable urns – although still stating emphatically that it was illegal. When burial at sea companies were presented with such urns, it presented a moral dilemma: Would they refuse to allow the family to carry out their wishes? Would they, according to the strict application of the law, open the urn at the place of disposition, pour the ashes out, and return the urn to the family? Most did neither, and just allowed the memorial to take place, feeling it was the right thing to do, and why cause any more grief to the family?

Finally, California modified the law, effective June 25, 2012, excluding biodegradable urns from the containers that had to be opened up. The law was signed by Governor Brown on July 10, 2012. This makes sense on many levels! The original law was written before biodegradable urns were so popular. The law was not created with bio urns in mind. Many bio urns are designed to be ocean friendly. Using a biodegradable urn as it is designed to be used presents no major differences than opening a container and pouring the cremains out. Another benefit is that it prevents the often-feared “ashes blowing back on the family” scenario. Also, the law will (hopefully) help to prevent other urns sold as biodegradable, but not quite, from washing up on shore and being found by beach-goers, surfers, and swimmers.

Now, new questions arise: What kind of urns qualify under the new law? Are there any specific methods that must be followed?

The urns pictured here qualify under the new law, which requires the urn dissolve within a certain amount of time.

Other notable changes: The ashes must be transferred no more than seven days prior to placement at sea. How this would ever be enforced is left to your imagination. The industry has always called these containers “biodegradable urns” or “bio urns.” The law calls them “scattering urns.” “Scattering urn” is described as “a closed container containing cremated remains that will dissolve and release its contents within four hours of being placed at sea.”

The exact text of AB 1777 can be found here. The Bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, CPA who wanted family members to have more peace of mind that their loved ones were being properly “disposed.”

“AB 1777 will protect the remains of loved ones from being stranded in a vulnerable container and most importantly, it will ensure that they are peacefully laid to rest in a manner that is not only lawful, but safe for the environment.” –  Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, CPA

Read more about Ma’s bill here.

Ashes on the Sea applauds this change as it relates to forward thinking in the funeral industry. Almost half of those who die will choose cremation. Laws relating to post-cremation choices thus need to be looked at and addressed on a continuing basis.

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