Crematory owners should create an ethical recycling program that benefits families, the environment, and their business.

For decades crematories struggled with finding solutions with what to do with the metal joints, dental metals, and prosthetic implants left over after the cremation process. As a result, many crematories buried the metal in cemetery grounds, stored it in concrete vaults, or even threw it away where it would eventually end up in a landfill. Improperly disposing post-cremation metals is harmful to the environment and prevents crematories from benefitting from the recycling proceeds that can be donated to charity, used for facility improvements, or allocated to purchase new equipment.

Up until recently, there was little, if any guidance from regulators on what to do with metal byproducts left over from cremations. However, in 2015, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA), provided recycling guidance with a joint statement that outlined best practices for recycling post-cremation metals.

According to CANA and the ICCFA, “Post-cremation items include mostly metallic waste and should be recovered following the cremation process, packaged, and recycled according to cremation provider specifications.”

Click here for link to full joint release by CANA and the ICCFA

Why Recycle?
For one, burying or throwing away the metal commonly found in prosthetic implants and dental scrap is detrimental to the environment. Materials like silver and mercury can seep into the soil, pollute fresh water sources, and hurt natural ecosystems. Recycling these materials for reuse in other products is the most environmentally conscientious thing that crematory owners can do.

Secondly, it solves the issue of how to properly handle post-cremation metals. Metal byproducts found after cremations can be cumbersome and take up a lot of space. Without a cohesive recycling program, disposing and storing these metals can be costly, burdensome, and time-consuming.

Lastly, post-cremation recycling can generate an entirely separate stream of revenue that crematory owners can use. While it’s ultimately up to the owner on how to use the extra funds, many choose to give it to their favorite charity or nonprofit or invest it in capital improvements or new equipment.

The Value of Post-Cremation Metal
Artificial joints and hips contain base metals and alloys like chrome-cobalt, titanium, and stainless steel, which should all be recycled at a refinery. These alloys are strong and durable but hold very little value because they don’t contain any noble, or precious, metals.

On the other hand, dental metals like crowns and bridges contain precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium; which are extremely valuable. For comparison, 100+ lbs. of base metals like cobalt or titanium can typically be sold for a few hundred dollars, while just a few ounces of precious metals could yield thousands of dollars. For this reason, it’s essential that crematories recycle with a refinery that specializes in maximizing the extraction of precious metals from dental scrap.

Most Value is Found in Dental Metals
Casket hardware, prosthetics, and artificial joints typically make up more than 99% of the overall volume and weight of post-cremation metals, but they usually account for less than 5% of the value.

Proper Analysis is Key
Crematories should be skeptical of companies utilizing single-stream payment models that base metal valuations on a “per-cremation” basis. In these models, companies will pay crematory owners a highly conservative flat-rate based on the number of cremations performed each year. While this seems like a straightforward solution, funeral homes are often severely underpaid by this speculative pricing model because it doesn’t involve any concrete scientific analysis.

Rather than using a “single-stream” model, crematories should work with a refinery that melts, assays, and provides detailed reports on metal composition.

An assay is the scientific process in which metal is melted and analyzed to determine its contents and purity.

Choosing the Right Refinery
Because the value of post-cremation metal varies so greatly per cremation, it’s essential to work with a refinery that has all the tools and expertise required to maximize recovery and yields. Some crematories simply use a magnet to separate the metal found in post-cremation material, but this method won’t capture precious metals because they aren’t magnetic.

The best recycling companies will provide specialized tools, such as cremulators or filtration devices, to help crematory operators streamline the sorting process and maximize precious metal recovery. Without these tools, precious metal recovery on the crematory side is typically less than optimal.

Crematories should also find a refinery that has experience working with dental scrap, as this is where almost all of the value from post-cremation metals resides. Refiners with expertise in this area will be able to maximize precious metal yields, which translates to higher payments for the crematory.

Since metal recycling is not a priority for crematory owners, many don’t perform enough research when choosing a refinery for post-cremation metal recycling. Instead of losing out on potential funds, crematories should find a refiner that will work with their business to maximize the value they receive. Not all refiners are the same, and crematory owners should do their research to find a refinery that meets their needs. FBA

Sources:

“ICCFA and CANA Partner on Joint Recycling Statement.” ICCFA and CANA Partner on Joint Recycling Statement – Cremation Association of North America (CANA), ICCFA and CANA, 7 Jan. 2015,
www.cremationassociation.org/news/news.asp?id=209542&hh.

Mari, Montse, and José L. Domingo. “Toxic Emissions from Crematories: A Review.” Environment International, vol. 36, no. 1, 2010, pp. 131–137., doi:10.1016/j.envint.2009.09.006.

Long, Marc, and H.j Rack. “Titanium Alloys in Total Joint Replacement—a Materials Science Perspective.” Biomaterials, vol. 19, no. 18, 1998, pp. 1621–1639., doi:10.1016/s0142-9612(97)00146-4.

“Gold Price Today.” Kitco Metals Inc., Kitco Metals Inc., www.kitco.com/gold-price-today-usa/.


Melissa Polis is a seasoned GIA certified professional with over a decade of experience. As an account manager in the crematory division at Garfield Refining Company, Melissa has worked closely with a multitude of funeral homes and crematories to help them achieve a simple and streamlined process for post-cremation recycling. Her expertise has also given her industry-leading knowledge on how to help crematories maximize the recoverable value of post-cremation metals.