Sheldon Goldner HeadshotBy Sheldon Goldner

If you are running a crematory, by now you are well aware of the growing number of businesses offering to recycle the metal you recover from your cremations. The post-cremation metals recycling industry is growing quickly and for good reason. The first reason is that much of the post-cremation metals from dental work and bone implants are valuable and these companies know it. The second reason is that the Federal law requires “heavy metals” such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium and iridium to be properly disposed of or recycled, not just buried.

The fact is, not all recycling companies care about environmental compliance or your liability in the matter, but you should. According to Federal code, the ultimate environmental liability for non-compliance lies with you. So now, given all the recycling companies ready to take your metal and return the proceeds back to you (at varying amounts depending on who you choose), the question you should have is how do you select the right company that will pay you a fair return but will also keep you in environmental compliance.

Recycling companies serving cremationists come in two flavors. A direct refiner (the one who actually owns the refinery) is always the best choice. Just as all that glitters isn’t gold, not everyone offering to buy your post-cremation metal is a direct refiner. Most recyclers, scrap dealers and waste haulers are essentially middle-men who do not have the equipment or expertise to properly recover and refine precious metals themselves. They have to hire a refiner, which adds costs that eat into the money they can return to you. Some will tell you they are a “refiner” when in truth they are not. What is a crematory to do?

When you do business with a direct refiner, you not only avoid the middle-man and have more of the proceeds returned to you, but it also puts you in the very best position should the EPA come a-knocking to see how you have recycled the metals.

Seven Questions You Should Ask

When choosing a recycler, you should consider asking these seven important questions. Do not be timid about asking since a reputable refiner will be all too happy to answer.

• Does the “recycler” operate a true refinery or is he just acting as a middleman with a furnace that can melt metal? You can test them by insisting on a tour of their facility. If they say no or make excuses because of insurance, they are hiding something and must be a middleman.

• How long has the refinery been in business and how long have they been working with post-cremation metals? (It matters!) Unfortunately, many so-called “refiners” are here today and gone tomorrow. Let the company prove their authenticity and longevity with Articles of Incorporation or other documentation. And do not forget to Google them (and their owners) as well to see what you can find.

• Does the refinery employ the latest technologies to recover all of the precious metal present? Do they own either an ICP Thermal Analysis unit or an Atomic Absorption unit for analysis? If they only have an x-ray fluoroscopy unit to identify whether or not precious metals are present, you are speaking with a middleman and not a direct refiner.

• Does the refinery pay for all four major precious metals: gold, silver, platinum and palladium? If they say that they do, ask how they separate the platinum group metals from the gold (which are present together in the alloys used in dental implants). If they cannot quickly provide an answer, you are most likely speaking with a salesman, not a refinery professional.

• What percentage are they charging for their fees? Only a large direct refiner with additional non-funeral industry business can afford to pay as high 98% on gold and 95% on all other metals, accepting the smallest of margins.

• How quickly will they pay you? A true refiner can, if you wish, pay within 24 hours of receipt for the gold in your dental scrap and the balance of the other precious metals within 5 to 10 working days from receipt.

• Are they EPA-compliant? Can they produce an official numbered Federal EPA manifest that will protect you if you’re ever contacted by the agency? If they cannot provide such a manifest or merely tell you that they have a letter that says they are environmentally compliant, that’s a big red flag.

How is the Assay Determined?

Typical post-cremation metals include dental crowns, surgical implants and casket parts. These are generally alloys and it takes skill to refine and separate out the precious and non-precious metals. Some refiners are better at it than others and can recover more saleable precious metals from a load of metal scrap.

A professional direct refiner will provide an assay report that states in simple-to-understand terms the types, amounts and purity of the metal recovered. This is important because purity and amount affects the value and therefore reflects the money you will get back from the refiner. The assay report should make it easy for you to verify the amount of money you will receive and how that refund was calculated.

Staying on the Right Side of EPA

When you recycle with a direct refiner, you protect the environment and yourself at the same time. The Environmental Protection Agency views post-cremation metal as “hazardous waste” per Title 40 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations. Under the EPA’s “cradle-to-grave” concept, the crematory owner is liable for the safe, legal and environmentally-responsible disposal of such waste. It is an individual and a corporate liability that can even pass to the operator/owner if he sells the crematory or to his heirs should such liability be discovered after his death.

All materials that contain precious metals must be sent to an EPA-licensed facility for recycling and refining. The facility must maintain a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest certifying that all EPA laws concerning collection, shipment and refining of such materials were followed properly. A proper EPA manifest will resolve the crematory’s cradle-to-grave liability question of chain of custody. Merely presenting a letter stating that a facility is recycling in an EPA-compliant manner is not sufficient proof. It’s up to the crematory to ask a refiner if they are registered with the EPA and can produce an EPA-compliant manifest for all their collections and/or for their EPA ID number.

Getting Your Fair Share

One of the biggest differences among refiners is how much they pay the customer and on what percentage of recovered metal they base their payment on. Be wary of vendors whose primary pitch is simply “We pay more.” That is a blanket statement that does not tell you anything. For instance, two lots of dental scrap weighing the same will yield different values of precious metals: If a crown is for a back molar, then there would be more gold present, as this crown is going to be doing a lot of grinding; if the crown is positioned towards the front of the mouth, it will contain less gold and more palladium. So the gross weight of the outgoing metals is only a small part of the equation. That is why when you hear, “We can pay you more than what you are currently receiving,” you are only getting partial – even inaccurate – information.

Some vendors pay on 100% of the metal recovered, but charge additional fees for assays, refining, and other treatments or services that reduce your proceeds. Other vendors pay on as little as 80% of what they recover, keeping the difference for themselves. One vendor we know says they pay 100% of “the money due you,” which is really misleading, as it means all the money due you after they take their 15% cut.

Furthermore, pay close attention to the quoted payout rates. Many customers are savvy about gold prices, so some refiners will offer a higher payout percentage on gold but lower percentages on platinum, palladium and silver. The majority of dental scrap contains palladium as it is a very functional and strong precious metal with varied uses in the dental industry.

A reputable refiner will tell you their rates in advance of your order. That way you won’t have any unwelcome surprises when you receive your payment. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for shipping, either. Competitive direct refiners will offer free containers, free secure shipping via Fed-Ex or other common carrier. A good refiner will also offer one-to-one customer service with a knowledgeable representative who will be your link to the refinery and will ask and answer any questions that may arise as your material flows through the process of refining. If you have the opportunity, visit the refinery to see and follow the melt and refining of your material. It’s a fascinating thing to see!

Giving Back What You Get Back

For many cremationists who don’t like the idea of directly benefiting from the precious metals and titanium implants that they are compensated for, there is another option for them. One could either support their community or charity of choice. But do not leave it to the recycler to do that for you, since you really do not know how much they are taking for their cut. The more you get back, the more good you can do. And you also receive the charitable deduction on your taxes. I know of a number of cremationists who have found creative ways to do wonderful things with the revenue generated from recycling. One firm purchased jerseys for the local high school football team. Another made a four-figure donation to a local children’s hospital. Several non-profit organizations have used the money to add new shrubs and flowers for all client families to enjoy when they visit a loved one in that cemetery.

Whether you choose to donate the proceeds to charity or put it to use for growing your business, with precious metals being as valuable as they are, why not get the very highest return you can on your post-cremation metal? Taking the time to find a reputable direct refiner will pay very good dividends. FBA

Sheldon Goldner is CEO of Progressive Environmental Services, a division of Precious Metal Refining Services, Inc., an EPA-licensed Inc. 500 company. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 800-323-9785, ext. 8811 or visit their website at