Demand for Ash Scattering on the Rise

Applications for ash scattering in Iceland have increased substantially in recent years. The District Magistrate’s Office received 50 applications in 2018. Close to half of the applicants were foreign citizens who do not permanently reside in Iceland, RÚV reports.

There’s an ever-increasing number of people who choose to burn their earthly remains once they have passed away. The same is also true of relatives who wish to scatter the ashes of the deceased. People have applied to scatter ashes in beautiful locations such as Reynisfjara, Gullfoss, and Skógafoss, to name a few. However, the scattering of ashes is prohibited in these places. Halldór Þormar Halldórsson, from the District Magistrate in North-East Iceland in Siglufjörður, explains that certain criteria have to be met.

“It’s evaluated in each case, but it’s preferable to head to mountainous areas without people. The law states that it is expected that ashes should not be scattered close to populated areas. It has been interpreted that it is therefore permitted to scatter ashes at sea and in uninhabited areas, in places where there is no traffic, far away from populated areas.”, Halldór stated in an interview with RÚV.

The increased of travellers heading to Iceland in recent years has led to an increased interest in scattering ashes in Icelandic nature. “We’ve heard many different explanations. People have visited the country, or seen pictures of the Northern Lights who are excited by the idea of Iceland. In some cases, it is folks who have visited Iceland as travellers, either the deceased or his close relatives. It’s mainly folks from the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, as well as a little from the Netherlands, who are interested in it,” Halldór said.

A sacred resting place in Eyjafjörður?
There have been ideas afoot to established a sacred resting place in the middle of Eyjafjörður fjord, where people have permission to scatter the ashes of their relatives. Halldór believes that the idea needs to be inspected to ensure the laws about scattering ashes are followed. “There’s nothing that bans people from scattering ashes wherever in the sea, as long as it is not within harbour areas. But if we are talking about one specific place where people want to scatter ashes, then people will always to apply for permission for that. I can’t envision a reason to stop people from scattering ash more in a specific place, rather than any other place. However, it is stated in the law that it is forbidden to label or distinguish the place, but it is out on the sea so it could be marked out by GPS coordinates,” Halldór stated.

One Third of Requests to Scatter Ashes Come From Foreigners

Foreigners who don’t live in Iceland make up a third of those who request to have their ashes scattered in the country or in the ocean around it, RÚV reports. Applications for permission to scatter ashes in Iceland have more than doubled from 2013 – 2018.

There have been a total of 158 requests to scatter ashes in the last six years, 53 of which came from individuals with foreign citizenship who did not reside in Iceland while alive. Two applications were rejected in 2013, but no applications have been rejected since. Application numbers have increased fairly steadily, although not entirely consistently: there were 18 applications in 2013, but only 13 in 2015, then 36 in 2017, and 38 in 2018.

These statistics were published in Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen’s reply to an inquiry from Left-Green MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson about cremations and burials in Iceland. Cremation has become increasingly prevalent in Iceland. Over a quarter of Icelanders who died in 2013 and 2014 were cremated. According to Icelandic law, ashes may be scattered in the sea or over uninhabited land; ashes cannot be scattered in inhabited areas, areas that are likely to be developed for habitation, or lakes. Scattering sites must be well away from main roadways and only on private land if a special permit has been obtained. Ashes may be scattered on mountains, but not near popular hiking trails.

“Each application is evaluated individually and the [scattering area] is examined on a map, if need be,” explained Sigríður in her reply. “Applicants are even asked to provide data on the proposed scattering site and information is obtained from people who are familiar with the area.”