Ashes to Ashes, Rust to Rust? The recovery and recycling of orthopaedic implants post-cremation

Hannah Rumble

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

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Whilst a death necessitates the practical need and ritualised process of sorting through and reorganising the material life of the deceased, many of us probably give little thought to the literal process of sorting through people’s post-cremated remains even though, since the 1990s, commercial recycling companies have been doing just that (Resurgam, 2012). By focusing on the recovery and recycling of cremated orthopaedic implants in contemporary Britain, the theoretical sequestration of death literature (Giddens, 2005 [1991]; Mellor, 1993; Walter, 1996) that takes for granted the final “disposal” of human remains is rendered less valid for corpse disposition practices in the 21st century. On the contrary, death produces a surplus, wherein the dead body, or parts thereof, are revalued and reclassified, so that former constituents of a corpse become valuable economic and material resources following the radical breakdown of a bounded body after cremation. Subsequently, the recovery and recycling of orthopaedic implants post-cremation “disperses” these metallic remains or residues via processes of sifting, separation and transformation. Originating as part of the corpse, these orthopaedic implants are separated out from cremated human remains to become surplus metallic waste. Following an industrial process of metal recycling involving collecting, sorting and smelting, this surplus metallic waste is transformed into valuable economic resources, devoid of human identity and materiality. Quite literally then, some of our material remains are sorted out to continually circulate beyond the human, achieving afterlives of their own, not so much disposed of but rather dispersed as metallic residues with economic value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResidues of Death
Subtitle of host publicationDisposal Reconfigured
EditorsTamara Khon, Martin Gibbs, Bjorn Nansen, Luke van Ryan
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780429456404
ISBN (Print)9781138315327
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2019


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