Direct Cremate

Making Cremains Safe for Soil

Do you plan to bury or scatter the cremains of a loved one? Read this first to learn how cremated remains are treated to be safe for the soil.
Making Cremains Safe for Soil
Measuring Soil Temperature with Thermometer. Female agronomist measuring soil temperature in the field. Field work for Environment protection project

Whether you plan to scatter cremains out in the open, bury them or use them to grow a plant, there’s something you should do first – make sure the cremains aren’t going to contaminate the soil. That’s right. Cremains could taint the soil if they haven’t been treated.

Let’s go into more detail about why cremains need to be treated and what the process entails. Plus, a few alternatives if the cremains haven’t been treated, but you still want to put them in the ground.

Why Untreated Cremains Aren’t Safe for Soil

You may have heard about toxic embalming fluid that’s used during traditional burial. The embalming fluid can leach out into the ground, negatively impacting the surrounding soil and possibly getting into the groundwater. Given that embalming fluid is made of formaldehyde and other toxins, it’s totally understandable. With cremains the problem is less obvious. 

After the cremation is complete, all that remains are the bones. These are crushed up to create the cremains. The composition of the cremains is perfectly safe for handling and keeping in an urn. However, some of the trace elements can be problematic if they come in direct contact with the soil. 

The composition of cremains primarily consists of:

  • Dry calcium phosphates
  • Nitrogen
  • Salts/Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfur 
  • Carbon (1-4%)
  • Heavy metals – lead, copper, iron

The biggest concerns in terms of soil contamination is the high salinity and alkalinity of cremains. The sodium levels are up to 2,000 times higher than what’s considered good for soil. The pH level of cremains is also very acidic and not conducive for supporting plant life because it eliminates nutrients that are vital for plants. The pH level of cremated remains is approximately 11.8. The pH of soil is usually around 5-8, and it doesn’t have the ability to level the pH out if outside components are added. 

How Cremated Remains Are Treated to be Safe for the Soil

There are many differences between traditional burial and cremation burial plots, but what’s going into the plot is the biggest difference. If you plan to use the cremated remains in a way that will lead to contact with the soil, it’s best to try and get the cremains treated. 

A buffering agent must be added to the cremains to neutralize the alkalinity and salinity. There are products containing bacteria that can do this, but keep in mind it takes time. It could take up to four months for the cremains to be neutralized. 

Alternatives to Treating Cremains

Celebrities like Luke Perry have made headlines post-mortem because of their disposition choices. Perry chose a composting mushroom suit, but many celebrities choose cremation. High profile people forgoing burial for more eco-friendly options helps to clear up misconceptions about becoming a tree after death by helping to explain how the process really works.

If the cremains aren’t treated beforehand, there are specialty urns for growing plants that help to counteract the negative components of the cremains. These urns are biodegradable and have a lining that’s formulated to neutralize the cremains that are put inside. That way the components in the cremains can provide a good base for the root structure rather than killing it.

But a specialty urn isn’t necessary. You can also mix the cremains with specially-treated soil that neutralizes the acidity and lowers the salinity of the cremated remains. Of course, you could always opt for space burial, which doesn’t require any special treatment. 

Have questions about direct cremation? We’re here to provide guidance and information 24 hours a day. You can reach us by phone or text.