Although medical implant surgery is not a recent phenomenon, the number of implant procedures performed each year is on the rise. One of the major contributors to this demand for implants is an aging population. As our overall lifespan increases, we’re seeking health options that allow us to live life in the best of health. A surgical implant, such as a hip replacement, is a common procedure for the over-65s.
Medical implants need to be built with materials that are strong and durable and can be safely inserted into a human body. Depending on the size and the function of the implant, various metals are used in constructing the devices. As the demand for surgical implants increases, the demand for the recycling of surgical metals is also on the rise.
How Surgical Metals Are Used
Orthopedic implants are devices surgeons place into the body to support or replace a damaged joint or bone. The most common orthopedic implants are hip replacements and knee replacements.
Internal fixation implants are small devices that are used to stabilize fractured bones while they heal. Metal plates are used to hold the bone together and are attached to the bone will small screws.
Both orthopedic and internal fixation implants are composed of metals such as stainless steel, titanium alloys, and cobalt-chromium. While the materials that go into making these metals are non-renewable, the metals used in surgical implants can be recycled.
How Surgical Metals Are Recycled
Most surgical implants, once placed in the body, remain inside the patient for the rest of their lives. According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), in 2015, more than 48 percent of Americans were cremated after death. CANA estimates that by 2020, that number will increase to over 54 percent. Crematoriums across America are working with companies to recycle the stainless steel, titanium, and cobalt used in medical implants.
Once the body has been cremated, the metals are separated from the remains using magnets and by hand. Implant recycling companies then collect the metals. The recycling of surgical metals involves melting down the accumulated metals and reselling the metal to industrial companies. Recycled steel and titanium can be used to construct new products such as road signs. High-value metals such as cobalt appear in the automotive and aviation industries.
How You Can Be Involved
The recycling of surgical metals helps the environment by reducing the number of discarded implants that end up in landfills and buried underground. If you are in the process of making afterlife plans for yourself or a loved one, speak with your funeral home director about the cremation process. Find out if the crematorium works with an implant recycling company and request that any recovered metals be recycled.