Funeral Homes Exploring Recycling of Implants
In the post-mortem business, new opportunities continuously arise.
One is the reclamation of metal implants and other prosthetics.
“We see more implants, and we’d like to see them recycled,” said Vidal Herrera, the founder of 1-800-Autopsy. “There’s no state law that says they have to be recycled.”
It’s a trend those in the mortuary business also see. The accessibility of shoulder, hip and knee replacements, as well as pacemakers and other implants has increased alongside the rise in the number of cremations.
Among Medicare recipients, there was a 15 percent increase in the overall rate of hip replacements from 2000-2001 to 2005-2006, according to a study from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. The same study also found a 48 percent increase in the overall rate of knee replacements and a 67 percent increase in shoulder replacements.
More recently, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that there were 288,471 hip replacements in 2009, nearly half of them in people under 65. The same agency found that knee replacements increased from 264,311 in 1997 to 621,029 in 2009, and more than tripled in the 45-to-64-year-old age group.
The spike in replacements coincides with a ongoing increase in those who choose to be cremated. An estimated 35 percent of those who died in the United States in 2010 were cremated, according to the Cremation Association of America. That means
implants made of cobalt chromium, titanium, and stainless steel could be recycled and reused.
The issue of what to do with prosthetic implants is of great interest to our industry, said Paul Rahill, the environmental and technical adviser for the Cremation Association of North America.
“As the leading cremation association worldwide, we propose to lead our industry toward more environmentally focused and responsible actions,” Rahill said in an email response. “This includes the handling of prosthetic implants from the human remains that are cremated.”
While pacemakers are removed and in many cases, sent back to the manufacturers, the implants get cast aside.
Many funeral homes still bury the parts, but some are turning to recycling them, some for profit and others for charity.
“We are seeing more prosthetic knees and hips, though there has always been prosthetics of some kind and legally, we’ve always interred them,” said Mike Miller, regional president of Stewart Enterprises, which owns and operates funeral homes, cemeteries, and cremation services across the nation, including in Palmdale and Lancaster.
About a year ago, the funeral home turned to a newly formed nonprofit organization called Alternative Solutions USA, that recycles those hips, knees, shoulders and dental implants, then donates the money to charity.
The practice of recycling implants hasn’t quite caught on with a majority of funeral homes, industry officials said. But Miller said he believes it will begin to increase as more loved ones learn about the options.
“We found it to be a better alternative than interring those metals in a cemetery,” Miller said.
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