Turning artificial joints into scrap metal at the crematorium

Combine the spike in commodity metal prices with advances in geriatric medicine and the increased trend to cremation and what do you get? A thriving trade in artificial joint harvesting and recycling. A Dutch company called OrthoMetals recycles 250 tons of scrap from cremated bodies -- cofounder Ruud Verberne notes that it takes five hips to make one kilo of metal, which fetches €12 on the scrap market.

Clark Boyd and Rob Hugh-Jones from PRI write on the BBC:

The company works by collecting the metal implants for nothing, sorting them and then selling them - taking care to see that they are melted down, rather than reused.

After deducting costs, 70-75% of the proceeds are returned to the crematoria, for spending on charitable projects.

"In the UK for example," he says. "We ask for letters from charities that have received money from the organisation we work with in the UK and we see that the amount we transferred to them has been given to charity. This is a kind of controlling system that we have..."

...Mr Verberne has no metal implants himself, but he points out his business partner's wife, who is helping sort out bits of metal at the recycling plant. "She has two titanium hips", he says. "And she was once asked: "Isn't it strange that you know that one day your hips will run along this conveyor belt?'"

"She said, 'No, it's just a part of life. You're going to die, and I know that reusing metals is a very good thing, so it is no problem at all.'" She added "'My mother's hip was on here too!'"

Melting down hips and knees: The afterlife of implants


  1. Why do they do that?

    What is wrong with reusing implants, as long as they are up to spec? I would be honored to have some part of me coming from someone else. Just like I am honored to have the ancestors I have.

    1. I bet that there’s a significant number of people who do not want used parts and also people who do not want that their o their family’s parts get reused as is.

      Much easier to melt ’em all down than to sort ’em out.

        1. Sure. But live organs a scarce resource, which warrants those measures. (donor cards, checking with the next of kin, fast extraction.)   There is no good substitute.

          Old prosthetics, on the other hand, are scrap metal.  

      1. I bet that there’s a significant number of people who do not want used parts and also people who do not want that their o their family’s parts get reused as is.

        A man’s flesh is his own; the titanium belongs to the tribe.

    2. Possibly metal strength is compromised from the high temps of quick cremation, not counting logistical problems with getting different manufacturers to refinish, refurbish and replace plastic parts or coatings on implants.

    3. I would assume that would require a costly medical procedure pre-cremation.

      Also these things spend a decade or so in bodies, the companies probably have made a dozen improvements in that time.  

    4.  Also, these things ware out, so nobody wants a half worn hip that they would need to replace in 5 years.

    1. You must be thinking of the situation where Ruud Verberne had to kill 10,000 rats and smelt their artificial joints in order to level up sufficiently far to unlock the ‘titanium melting’ perk and begin to work on humans…

  2. Seems to me the metals and alloys would be worth more per kilo than that.   Just seems low to me considering the cost of the parts before they are installed.

    1. There may be certain exotic exceptions where nothing but palladium-unobtanium ceramics will do; but the scrap values for titanium, cobalt, chromium, and the fancier corrosion resistant steels aren’t all that high. If you were looking to build a bridge out of them, you’d turn a funny color and think again; but implants are pretty small.

      I get the impression that most of what you pay for when buying the implant is the clinical trials/regulatory approval/precision shaping/various exotic coatings for high wear-resistance in the joint or biocompatibility/bone growth at the bond sites. Not so very unlike drugs, where you usually aren’t paying for the precurser chemicals as much as you are some mixture of R&D, profit, and careful attention to detail during manufacture.

      1.  That sounds pretty reasonable. 

        The added cost of custom to-fit manufacture had occurred to me, but I should have thought of the comparison to the drugs R&D (and marketing) mark-up before commenting.

        I guess in the absence of specific knowledge I just assume exotic metals are more expensive than they are.

        1. Some exotic metals are quite excitingly expensive(Rhodium, Platinum, Palladium, Gold, Iridium, fancy isotopes that need to be manufactured to suit in a specialized reactor within X hours of use, etc.) but most of the ‘fancy structural’ ones(Titanium, specialty steels, etc.) tend to be of the ‘alarmingly expensive to build a large aircraft or such out of, but not a terribly large component of the cost of something that has to be implanted in a human and last for years without wearing out or killing them)…

        2. €12 per kilo comes up to somewhere near $25 US dollars per pound. That’s not too shabby at all for scrap metal. For comparison, aluminum and stainless steel scrap currently goes for about $0.40 per pound (roughly €0.18 per kilo).

          1. I understand what you’re saying, but your numbers seem all wrong. There are approximately 2.2 pounds in a kilo, or approximately 454 grams in a pound.

            €12 per kilo would be €0.012 per gram. That would make about € 5.45 per pound, which would currently be around US$7.22, not US$25. That is closer to the US$5-6 per pound being quoted online for scrap titanium.

            Check my math, it’s late here – and math is hard.

  3. What do they get for the fillings?   I am sure some of the older guys these days still have some vintage bullet fragments in there too.

    The woman that sorted her own mother’s hip disturbs me. 

    Also, who gets the money? 

    1. One of my buddies, wants to have his ashes put in a pinatta and have his friends go at it. He has a lot of gold fillings. I mentioned it to a dental supplier – and though he chuckled at the story he said the temperatures are so high – any gold fillings are vaporized.

  4. I don’t have a huge issue with this. My general comment on that sort of question has always been “I’m done using it at that point, better the parts be of use to someone else than just go to waste.”.

    1. Yep. All those hips w0uld do otherwise is rattle around in their jars of granny crumbs. If I ever end up with metal implants, I hope somebody can find a good use for them after I’ve leaned over and emitted my final death rattle.

      1. “Granny crumbs” lol.

        As a lifelong junkyard hound, put me on the list for used hips.  Assuming someone carries my size, or near enough so that I don’t have to walk like a stop-motion armature.

        I figured titanium wouldn’t be too terribly expensive for this purpose (my wedding ring is titanium, and is both understatedly classy and remarkably lightweight.  And quite scratch-resistant.  And it cost under $200 new.), but bespoke aftermarket body parts are for classier people than I.

  5. Check the math.
    A million artificial hips through one crematorium?
    Setting that aside, is this even a story?

    1.  They recycle all sorts of implants not just hips, think hips, knees, pins, rods, plates, etc. which probably accounts for a very large percentage of deceased people over a certain age (and plenty of younger people have metal implants due to injury). They also seem to take metal from crematoriums all through Europe not just one.

  6. >’No, it’s just a part of life. You’re going to die, and I know that
    reusing metals is a very good thing, so it is no problem at all.'”

    She added “‘My mother’s hip was on here too!'”

    now that is what I call a hip, _hip_ lady.

  7. Hmm, my mom has had both sets of hips and knees (and some pins I think?) replaced. If I could dig them out of her corpse when she dies I could pay for the funeral flowers!

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