Metal body parts from the dead are being recycled into road signs, lamp posts, car parts and aircraft engines. Steel hips, plates and screws from legs and skulls are collected after cremation and sent off for recycling. Even metal plates from false teeth and tiny fragments from fillings can be recovered and re-used, together with metal fittings on coffins. High value metals which survive the 1000-degree cremation are then sold for use in the automobile and aeronautical industries.
They include cobalt and titanium, found in some implants and dental work, with cobalt used in aircraft engines. But other less valuable metals are smelted down and sold for more general use – including road signs, motorway barriers and lamp posts. The metal salvaged from cremations is put in large wheelie bins at the crematoriums and collected by contractors who take it to specialist plants for recycling. Money made is donated to charity and almost £1million has been raised for good causes since the project began in Britain in 2004.
The Dutch company behind the recycling says around half Britain’s 260 crematoriums have signed up to the scheme which is generating 75 tonnes of metal a year. Relatives are asked if they want to keep metal parts of loved ones before cremations by the centres taking part in the scheme. The vast majority say they have no need for them and sign a consent form agreeing to the recycling. When the cremation is over the ashes and other remaining items go into a compartment in the cremator and then into a special cremulator machine which separates any metal from remaining pieces of bone.
Ruud Verberne, owner of OrthoMetals, the Dutch company behind the recycling, said: “Metals reclaimed from cremations are being increasingly re-used. High value metals such as cobalt go into the aircraft or automotive industries. Others are sold to smelters and foundries and it is possible that they end up as roadsigns or motorway barriers – there’s no way of knowing. What is important is that the metals are being recycled, and this is a growing business both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.”