Recycling of surgical metals left over after cremation is becoming more common
Recycling metal surgical implants left over after a cremation is an increasing trend in New Zealand.
While there is no standardised process across the industry, individual funeral homes and crematoriums around the country have systems in place to safely dispose of the medical items like surgical steel hip joints, plates and screws, which survive the 1000-degree Celsius cremation process.
It is an initiative which happens worldwide. One example is Dutch company Orthometals which offers a specialist recycling service for crematoriums. The surgical devices are collected, sorted and then smelted for re-use.
Depending on the value of the metals, some are used in the automobile and aeronautical industries while others are refashioned into things like road signs or motorway barriers.
* A behind the scenes look at the Taranaki's hottest ticket, the crematorium
* Nelson council to keep crematorium but may drop pet cremations
* Cremation of 230kg body goes wrong
* Crematorium makes urn mistake
* Bid to reuse joints after cremation
Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand chief executive Katrina Shanks said she was aware of a range of companies nationwide which assisted with the disposal and recycling of surgical metal left following a cremation.
She said what happened with the medical items was ultimately a decision for the families involved.
In some cases, they were included in the ashes which were given back to loved ones.
"For some ethnic communities, it is important for the bodies to be complete," Shanks said.
Fraser Stewart, of Abraham's Funeral Home in New Plymouth, said the practice at its crematorium was for the items to be separated from the remains and independently disposed of as scrap metal.
However, if there were any issues raised by relatives, these would be discussed at the time.
"It's pretty much driven by the family," he said of the process.
Jeff Harris, managing director of Wellington based metal recyclers Macauley Metals said his business had not been approached to recycle any bulk supply of surgical metal which was retrieved after a cremation.
While he definitely saw the merit in recycling the material rather than it being buried, Harris said it would too "hit and miss" in terms of the volume available to make it a stand alone business idea.
He said the current value of stainless steel meant the venture would not be very lucrative either.
"If it's metal and it's stainless steel, it's worth about $1 a kilo at the moment," Harris said.