Cremated remains are returned to the next of kin in different manners according to custom and country. In the United States, the cremated remains are almost always contained in a thick watertight polyethylene plastic bag contained within a hard snap-top rectangular plastic container, which is labeled with a printed paper label. The basic sealed plastic container bag may be contained within a further cardboard box or velvet sack, or they may be contained within an urn if the family had already purchased one. An official certificate of cremation prepared under the authority of the crematorium accompanies the remains, and if required by law, the permit for disposition of human remains, which must remain with the cremated remains.
Cremated remains can be kept in an urn, stored in a special memorial building (columbarium), buried in the ground at many locations or sprinkled on a special field, mountain, or in the sea. In addition, there are several services in which the cremated remains will be scattered in a variety of ways and locations. Some examples are via a helium balloon, through fireworks, shot from shotgun shells, by boat or scattered from an aeroplane. One service sends a lipstick-tube sized sample of the cremated remains into low earth orbit, where they remain for years (but not permanently) before reentering the atmosphere. Some companies offer a service to turn part of the cremated remains into synthetic diamonds that can then be made into jewelry. Cremated remains may also be incorporated, with urn and cement, into part of an artificial reef, or they can also be mixed into paint and made into a portrait of the deceased. Some individuals use a very small amount of the remains in tattoo ink, for remembrance portraits. Cremated remains can be scattered in national parks in the United States with a special permit. They can also be scattered on private property with the permission of the owner. A portion of the cremated remains may be retained in a specially designed locket known as cremation jewelry, or even blown into special glass keepsakes and glass orbs. The cremated remains may also be entombed. Most cemeteries will grant permission for burial of cremated remains in occupied cemetery plots that have already been purchased or are in use by the families disposing of the cremated remains without any additional charge or oversight.
Concerns have been raised at the amount of ashes scattered at the peak of Snowdon, as they change the nature of the soil, and may affect the ecology.
The final disposition depends on the personal preferences of the deceased as well as their cultural and religious beliefs. Some religions will permit the cremated remains to be sprinkled or retained at home. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, prefer to either bury or entomb the remains. Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, grandson, etc.) of the deceased to immerse the cremated remains in the holy river Ganges, preferably at the holy city of Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, or Varanasi or Haridwar, India. The Sikhs immerse the remains in Sutlej, usually at Sri Harkiratpur. In southern India, the ashes are immersed in the river Kaveri at Paschima vahini in Srirangapattana at a stretch where the river flows from east to west, depicting the life of a human being from sunrise to sunset. In Japan and Taiwan, the remaining bone fragments are given to the family and are used in a burial ritual before final interment.