Why It Matters

Exploring a new burial concept - inland ash scattering

The columbarium blocks at the Mount Vernon Columbarium Complex in Upper Aljunied Road.PHOTO: ST FILE

Last week, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that following public interest, it plans to roll out a new ecological burial concept - inland ash scattering.

Instead of placing cremated remains in a niche or scattering them at sea, people might soon be able to scatter the ashes of their loved ones in a garden.

While it remains to be seen how the mechanics of NEA's Inland Ash Services will work, this move opens up a new avenue for the public, especially those who are minded to explore an eco-friendly end-of-life option for their loved ones.

Viewed by some industry players as proactive, baby steps towards green funerals, it comes in the wake of similar practices and options in countries such as South Korea, China and the United States.

Singaporeans have been looking for alternatives to the conventional modes. For instance, some have turned the ashes of their loved ones into diamonds to be worn as jewellery, while others have voiced the desire to have their remains planted with trees.

Another possible upside to inland ash scattering is that it reduces demand for space, as opposed to, say, building more columbaria in land-scarce Singapore.

But as some religions forbid this practice, drafting the processes and guidelines will have to be done carefully, keeping in mind Singapore's unique multiracial and multi-religious society.

NEA, which operates the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium and Mandai Columbarium, said it will be comprehensive in seeking feedback.

It said it will consult the public, industry stakeholders and the various religious groups and after-death service providers on issues ranging from design criteria to operational procedures.

Inland ash scattering is meant to provide more options so people can have more of a choice when deciding on their final resting place.

But ultimately, the concept needs to be designed with both the dead and the living in mind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Exploring a new burial concept'. Print Edition | Subscribe