Probably not, because the thought of it tends to make most people who aren’t ODT editors cringe. But as medical implants become more common, people are dying with a variety of metals still in their bodies. Gold, titanium, palladium, silver, and a number of other metals are commonly found in cardiac implants, neurostimulators, dental implants, and joint replacements.
One Netherlands-based, family-owned business recognized the opportunity to repurpose these metals. Founded in 1997 by orthopedic surgeon Jan Gabriëls and logistic manager/recycling expert Ruud Verbene, OrthoMetals developed the concept of recycling metals remaining after cremation. The company provides their recycling service to over 700 crematoria in over 20 countries. The firm’s technology is able to separate metals from bones and ash remaining after a cremation.
The recycling solution is completely free for all crematoria that want to participate. When the partnership begins, OrthoMetals provides free wheeling bins or boxes, in which all materials remaining after cremation go. The bins are generally collected once or twice a year, or upon request to serve the specific facility’s needs. The OrthoMetals team conducts bin collection personally, guaranteeing them complete control of the recycling process.
“You’re taking something you were going to bury in the cemetery, it was going to no good,” Glenn McClary, CEO of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Group, which houses the Elgin Mills Crematorium north of Toronto, told CBC News. Mount Pleasant was the first crematorium operator in Canada to use OrthoMetals to recycle the non-organic materials in humans. “Now, the metals are not only going to be reused, we’re going to have a few extra dollars that we can provide to charity and do some good work,” he said.
Once OrthoMetals collects the bins, they’re sent off to a facility to be sorted. Precious metals recovered are then shipped to a specialized refinery to analyze the material for their gold, silver, palladium, and titanium content. Next, the sorted metals are smelted at the company’s partner foundries. And don’t worry, OrthoMetals assures, none of the metals will be recognizably reused for other medical implants. Titanium salvaged from knee or hip implants are potentially made into aircraft parts, or gold repurposed into electronics, for example. (All with the permission of the dead loved one’s family, of course.)
OrthoMetals then sells the metals—precious metals are sold at intraday prices, and non-ferrous/implanted metals are sold at market prices. After the deduction of the company’s costs, most of the proceeds are returned to the crematoria.
However, most of the crematoria donate the money received from OrthoMetals to charity, according to CBC News. The Mount Pleasant Group, for example, received $44,000 for their first year of participation, and used it to support hospice and palliative care in Ontario.
“People always want to know what happens behind the scenes,” said OrthoMetals cremation coordinator Sarah Mannone. “I think this is a great opportunity to do something that is environmentally friendly, yet still giving dignity and respect to the dead.”
OrthoMetals’ complete process takes place under strict ISO 9001 and 14001 certifications as well as mandatory country-specific licenses. The company also encourages crematoria to support local charity with the money they receive from recycling metals. The proceeds can also be distributed on behalf of crematoria among respected charities and institutes OrthoMetals has made contact with during their operation.
Readers may be uneasy about harvesting metals from the dead, but OrthoMetals has found that most grieving families are supportive of the initiative.
“It’s 2018, being more green is what is accepted now,” OrthoMetals director Hidde Verberne told BBC News NI this past July. “Sometimes it’s more a case...that the public aren’t always aware that this process happens, but when a bereaved family is informed with what happens with the material, in my experience most are happy for the process to take place.”