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What Happens to Metal Implants when We Die?

What Happens to Metal Implants when We Die?


As most people continue to observe cremation as an alternative to burial, cremation metal implants such as screws and plates from skulls and legs to hips of steel constitute a major concern during cremation. The metals used in orthopedic implant are mostly made from non-recyclable resources, and these include cobalt chrome, titanium, and medically evaluated stainless steel.

Moreover, after cremation, such materials do not melt because the melting points are higher than the temperatures achieved in the cremation chamber.

For example:

  • Titanium: 3034ºF
  • Gold: 1947ºF
  • Steel: 2500ºF

So, after the cremation process, staff remove the metal from the ash with a magnet.

Environmental Concerns

Traditionally, these metals were collected with the bone fragments for burial. However, following recent concerns over the environmental effects of buried metal, some companies have identified new ways of recycling and reusing them.

After the cremation process, most relatives wish to hold on to these cremation metal implants to have the implants buried with the ashes or to melt the metals down to donate the funds to a charitable organization. Importantly, there’s no legal ground to deny these requests.

So, What Happens to These Orthopedic Implants?

Ideally, most metals, which endure the cremation furnace, are offered to recycling companies. However, some metals such as dental gold alloy used in tooth filings do not withstand the high temperatures in the crematorium. If present in the body, we encourage the removal of such metals before initiating the cremation process. A dentist, for example, can extract the gold filling.

Pacemakers and ICDs (internal cardiac defibrillators) are also removed to prevent batteries from exploding when subjected to the high heat in the cremation chamber, which might damage the equipment. Additionally, the same applies to internal pumps used to administer drugs and spinal cord stimulators to relieve pain.

Alert cremation staff to any metal or medical implants before cremation. With this information, the crematory can offer their specialized advice on recycling the implants.

The Recycling Process

With the family’s consent, the metals are sent to recycling companies, and in recent years, we’ve seen an increase in these services.

While the value of these metals after death is incomparable to the cost of installing them. The company collects the implants, melts them down – instead of reusing them, and processes them into new products before selling them. After deducting their total cost of processing, the company then returns a more significant share of the profits to the crematoria for investing in open-handed projects.

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