Processing Cremated Remains and Post-Cremation Metals

No one wants to see post-cremation metal pieces intermixed with their loved one’s cremated remains.

Crematory owners and operators I talk to always ask me lots of questions. “How can I recover more of the metal during processing?” And the inevitable- “When will the price of gold go up?” I can definitely cite market trends and explain anything our trading division may have heard but I usually just say “If I knew that answer with certainty we’d be hanging out on my private island.”

Separation and recovery of the metals in cremated remains and recycling them is the right thing to do for many reasons and a good processor can help recover more, if not all, of the metal in the mix prior to returning the cremated remains back to their family. I will preface this by saying I don’t think having a processor that separates the metals for you is the only way, I just think it’s the easiest and least time-consuming way to recover all of the small metallic particles left in the cremated remains. I have heard from many crematory owners and operators that it is much nicer to have one because it allows them more time for other tasks. Additionally, it would be quite an arduous task to pull out every single piece of metal by hand.

A “separating” processor side view. Click to enlarge.

It is a best-practice and expected for the cremated remains to be returned completely and free of any non-organic material. Imagine a family wishing to scatter their loved one’s cremated remains and when they do, they see charred screws, staples or other metal impurities intermingled as well. There is a direct correlation to proper and complete metal collection in the crematory, and the ability to recover more value to our customers with a thorough recycling program. This may include a “separating” cremated remains processor.  There are a handful of companies that manufacture these types of processors and they range in price from about $10,000 to over $40,000. Personally, I don’t see the difference in their effectiveness for such a huge price range as they all seem to function really well.

A “separating” processor close up of the screen that will capture any small pieces of high value recyclable metals. Click to enlarge.

A processor that prevents small pieces of metal going into the urn is an advantageous piece of equipment in the crematory. These processors (sometimes called cremulators) are designed to help ensure that the urns going back to the families contain only the cremated remains of their loved one and nothing else. Large implant pieces like hips or knees, for example, are easy to see by the crematory operator and are removed by hand during a manual sort prior to processing. However, small pieces of metal such as staples, screws and dental prosthetics are much harder to see. A sorting magnet is helpful to remove pieces that are ferromagnetic and will be picked up by a magnet, but most precious metals are non-ferromagnetic so those pieces remain unless visually identified and removed by hand. It can be a time consuming process for a crematory operator to effectively remove everything non-ferromagnetic by hand.

I mention the need to separate the dental metals for a few reasons. Firstly it gives the crematory a better handle on what quantity of high-value metal they’re collecting. If you don’t know what you have you cannot realistically know what you should be getting back from the recycler. The second reason is to make sure the small pieces of metal do not end up in the urn with the cremated remains. Bear in mind, the precious metals can end up in the drum with the large implant metals without separating. But separating the precious metals prior to sending them to your recycler is the best way to ensure you are recovering everything and not leaving something unsightly in the urn.

Having a separating processor is not mandatory; we’ve just found them to be immensely helpful to crematory operators. There is no doubt that these “separating” processors reduce the operator’s processing time. They will also help to ensure only clean unsullied cremated remains are being returned to your families.

Kevin McKayComment