It looks like an ordinary factory workshop – hundreds of containers full of metal are being processed. People are hard at work sorting out the mountains of metal. It only becomes odd when you hear what’s being said. “This is full of prosthetic human hips, and that one there has the burned remains of artificial knees.”
Welcome to OrthoMetals, a company recycling metals from crematoria. Containers from all over Europe end up in the town of Zwolle to the northeast of Amsterdam. After a process involving magnets, conveyor belts and sorting by hand, the metals are stored in various bins. They go on to be sold to companies which will melt them down and give them a new lease of life. The crematoria are paid for the metal and give the money to charity.
It’s environmentally friendly, innovative, but isn’t it a bit gruesome? Owner and director Ruud Verberne:</p>
<p>“Yes, that’s the way a lot of people see it, but it’s not. Before we came along, the artificial body parts were thrown away, or sent to a scrap dealer who didn’t know what to do with them. We’ve discovered their value and I think we go about it in a very decent way. The crematoria who work with us receive a proper receipt showing how much the metal fetched and the percentage they are entitled to. It’s not so gruesome. It’s just giving something that would normally be thrown away new value.”</p>
<p>It’s certainly got value: OrthoMetals has an annual turnover of four million euros. “That’s a lot of money for something that’s normally thrown away,” says a proud Mr Verberne. There’s iron, cobalt, titanium, steel and sometimes bits of precious metals. “With the price of gold so high, it fetches a lot. Then, we give more to the crematoria.”</p>
While he is giving a tour round the dusty (“That’s not human ash, honestly!”) workshop, Mr Verberne explains how he got the idea of starting the company. His business partner, Jan Gabriels, who is an orthopaedic surgeon, wondered what happened to all that metal when somebody died. The idea of recycling surfaced, and OrthoMetals was born.</p>
<p>Besides the enormous amount of artificial hips, knees and bone pins, there are now and again more uncommon finds. “We have a cupboard of curiosities, with all the unusual things we find.” There’s a burned bottle, a pile of coins, a pair of scissors. “We sometimes find steel toecaps from shoes – from someone who was cremated in his work clothes.”</p>
<p>The company has become an international operation. OrthoMetals now receives metal remains from 15 European countries. It has a separate branch in the United States and Canada and there are also customers in Australia.</p>