After a body is cremated, the remains, often called cremains, are not "ashes" in the usual sense. They are dried bone fragments that have been pulverized. They have a sand-like consistency and often contain small portions of bone.
Ashes from a cremation are not a health risk. They may be kept or released in a variety of ways and in many locations. You may want to consider keeping a portion and letting the rest go. Once the ashes are scattered they are gone forever. Consider keeping a small portion of the ashes just in case you or someone in your family someday wants to have them as a remembrance or use them in a piece of jewelry or other keepsake.
There are several techniques for scattering ashes:
Scatter ashes into the air
Scattering is simply releasing ashes from a container. It is best to have one person at a time control the release from the container while others look on. People can take turns doing a partial scattering one at a time. A group may scatter ashes simultaneously in a toast-like gesture using smaller individual containers for each portion of ashes.
Check the direction of the wind and scatter the ashes down wind. Ashes are mostly made up of a dense sand like matter and will quickly fall to the ground but some of it will be a fine powder and this will become airborne forming a whitish gray cloud.
Scatter ashes into a shallow trench
A shallow trench or groove is dug in the soil. The ashes are ceremonially poured into the trench and at the conclusion of the ceremony the trench is covered with soil. The trench can take the shape of a heart or spell out a word. Some people scatter ashes using the trench technique on a beach and time it so the tide comes, breaks down the trench and washes the ashes out to sea. Like watching a sand castle be taken into the tide.
Scatter ashes into a particular shape
Ashes are poured into a circle, star, heart or other shape. Some like to have the shape surround a collection of candles, flowers or some significant objects. Pouring the ashes into a particular shape will require holding the container close to the earth.
Scatter ashes by raking the ashes into loose soil
Ashes are ceremonially poured evenly on loose soil and raked into the ground. This technique is often used at scattering gardens.
Scatter ashes by burial
A hole is dug at least a foot deep and the ashes can either be poured in the hole or a biodegradable urn can be placed in the hole and covered.
Scatter ashes into a body of water
If scattering into the air on a beach be aware of the wind direction. You don't want the ashes unexpectedly blowing back at you. Remember, some of the ashes are a fine powder and this will become airborne forming a whitish gray cloud. Scattering into a body of water is best from a dock or from a boat where you can make sure and have the wind at your back.
Consider using a scattering urn. Several companies make water-soluble urns specifically designed to float a few minutes in the water and then slowly sink or disintegrate.
At some point in the scattering ceremony, people often toss flowers or petals into the water as a tribute. The flowers or petals float on top of the water as the ashes sink.