Recycling Metal and Cremation: What Happens to Implants when You Die?

Most people require surgery at some point during their lifetime. During this process, it may be necessary to get a metal implant, for example, a hip replacement or screws to join bones.

The metal used for the implant will depend on the type of implant. Gold or amalgam fillings in teeth were popular at a time; now dental teeth implants make use of metal screws. Knee replacement implants often make use of a combination of cobalt and chrome. Many people also receive a titanium hip implant during hip replacement surgery.

metal implants remaining in the body

But what happens when a person passes away with metal implants remaining in the body?

The Collection Process

Cremation requires the body to be burnt. The incinerator only reaches a certain temperature during the cremation process. Most metal implants will not melt at this temperature since metals melt at very high but varying temperatures. As a result, the metal implants will be mostly intact even after the body is burnt. Large metal implants will be removed and smaller metal implants such as screws or staples will be removed using a magnet. There are also other methods to remove the metal implants, for example,

a dentist could be called out to the crematorium before the cremation commences to remove gold fillings from the teeth.

Many years ago, it was standard practice for crematoriums to collect the metal implants from several cremations. When enough implants had been collected, the crematorium would bury the metal implants in the ground. However, this was not considered to be an environmentally-safe solution. Since that time the thought process surrounding recycling of crematory metals has evolved leading to implant recycling becoming the norm.

Cremation UrnImplant Recycling

Once metal implants are removed from the incinerated remains, the crematorium will place the implants in a recycling container. This container is then collected by a metal recycling company at set intervals, for example, every three months, or when it is full.

There are crematory recycling centers available to sort the metals into higher grade and lower grade metals depending on the composition. The sorted metals are melted into a different form and then sold to metal recyclers for secondary use. The recycled metal implants are eventually used for other purposes, such as being used in the construction of planes or cars. The proceeds that recycling companies receive for the processing of metal implants is donated to charities or given back to the crematoriums.

Implant recycling is usually only done with the permission of the deceased’s family members. In rare circumstances, a family may request to keep the metal implants. However, rest assured that metal implants are handled in an environmentally-safe and dignified manner during the cremation process.