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Inland ash scattering to be introduced at Mandai crematorium, Choa Chu Kang cemetery

SINGAPORE — Come 2020, members of the public will have the option of scattering their loved ones’ ashes on land – such as in a garden – in addition to placing the cremated remains in a columbarium or scattering them at sea.

Graves at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

Graves at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

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SINGAPORE — Come 2020, members of the public will have the option of scattering their loved ones’ ashes on land – such as in a garden – in addition to placing the cremated remains in a columbarium or scattering them at sea.

The new ecological burial method will be introduced at the Choa Chu Kang cemetery complex and Mandai crematorium and columbarium complex in 2020 and 2021, respectively, announced the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Friday (June 22).

Details on how the new service will be implemented – such as the areas to be used and operational procedures – will be announced later.

The new option comes amid greater public interest and is already available in places such as Taiwan, China and the United States.

The NEA consulted various religious groups and after-death care service providers from August to December last year. They were consulted on design criteria, user experience, operational procedures and booking arrangements, as well as cultural and religious needs.

The groups felt the scattering of ashes should be respectful and dignified, and any facility should be secular and open to all faiths.

“The area set aside needs to be adequate to accommodate large families, and will also require shelter for them, in case of rain,” said Singapore Buddhist Federation president Seck Kwang Phing, who took part in the consultations.

The NEA will be calling tenders for design and development works for the two facilities from this year.

Funeral service providers and undertakers welcomed the introduction of inland ash scattering as an alternative burial option, but said how the designated area is cordoned off will be crucial.

Others questioned if the practice would indeed benefit plants and the soil.

Mr Nicky Teo, 30, senior director of Singapore Funeral Solutions, said that there is growing demand for alternative burial methods.

“Just two weeks ago, I actually got a request from a family who wanted to scatter their loved one’s ashes in the forest, but we could not do so as it is not allowed and we were also unsure how to do so,” he said.

The demand may be due in part to rising columbarium charges, he said. “Private columbariums for example, can cost a few thousand to hundreds of thousands (of dollars), so scattering one’s ashes is a more affordable option for some,” said Mr Teo.

Families are also getting smaller, and the maintenance of ancestors’ niches may be time-consuming, he said.

Sea burial is one alternative, but it currently requires families to charter a boat. The NEA’s plan to build a facility for sea burials along the Tanah Merah shoreline, reported earlier this year by The Straits Times, drew opposition from the sea sports community. Last month, the agency said it intends to engage the sailing fraternity in a planned environmental impact study.

Inland ash scattering would benefit relatives who are unwilling or unable to head out to sea on a boat, said Mr Roland Tay, 71, founder of Direct Funeral Services.

Mr Calvin Tang, 42, assistant general manager of Singapore Casket, said about 10 to 15 per cent of his customers opt for sea burials. However, some families harbour the belief that their loved ones might not be able to “swim” in their afterlife and will not opt for sea burials.

The popularity of inland ash scattering will depend on how it is executed, he said. “Will a designated area be set up and cordoned off so that the ashes are not continuously stepped on by others?”

Mr Tang was also unsure if ashes, being acidic, would be beneficial to plants.

Another option available here is to turn the ashes into gemstones that can be worn as jewellery. Such services are offered by some undertakers, such as Singapore Casket.

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