Company. Gold recovered during cremations: but where does it go?

Today, 40% of French people choose cremation (that is, 240,000 per year), while in 1980 it was only 1%.

A dazzling progression that raises questions today that did not exist yesterday, asked in November 2019 by 60 million consumers magazine.

When relatives of the deceased collect the urn, it is true that they often do not know that crematoriums resell their loved ones' gold teeth, copper IUDs or titanium prostheses.

This market, managed by companies specialized in the reprocessing of precious and semi-precious metals, will be the center of an investigation by the magazine “Pièces à conviction” that will be broadcast this Wednesday, January 22, starting at 11 p.m. on France 3. (1).

But what does the law say? What do crematoriums do with the money collected? We asked the question to Richard Féret, deputy general director of the CPFM, the first federation of businessmen in the funeral sector.

What does the law say about gold, copper or titanium recovered during cremation?

She doesn't say much. This is a topic that has not been until now. We, as a federation, had never been contacted about this issue, because those responsible for the crematorium (2) – and a priori the communities – assimilated these cremation residues to “waste” under the environmental code. And the environmental code stipulates that the producer of the “waste” must guarantee its elimination or recycling. Therefore, within the framework of the circular economy, crematorium managers have turned to companies “specialized” in the recovery, collection, transformation and valorization of “waste”.

What is this “waste” made of?

There is a lot of talk about gold and titanium, but 80% is metallic “waste”, that is, everything related to the coffin (the handles, screws, etc.), possibly objects that loved ones may have left inside. and then, to a lesser extent, small or large prostheses. These materials are collected but not tracked in the individualized sense, that is, it is not after So-and-So's cremation that we identify the prosthesis as that of Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so. -and then. These prostheses are collected, preserved and, depending on the volume of cremations and therefore the volume of recovery of this “waste”, they are collected en masse by the recovery company, which classifies them, processes them, recycles them, etc. At the end of this process, the metals are recycled or reused.

In what areas are these metals recycled or reused?

As part of recycling, these metals are combined with other metals from other sources. They are reused, but I can't tell you where they go, except that they return to the industrial sector as part of this obligation of recovery and circular economy. Some metals, such as cobalt, are quite rare, hence the need to recycle them.

In the absence of legislation, do crematoriums continue to inform relatives of the destination of these metals?

First of all, I would like to point out that everyone agrees to fill this legislative gap. An interministerial commission has been formed, which brings together at least the ministries of Health, Interior and Environment. It is responsible for investigating the state of this waste, to know if it is “waste” or not. Then, depending on the answer given, you will have to answer a whole series of questions, for example deciding about your future. But one thing is for sure: as far as I know, there is no real information for families and I think things need to be improved at this point. Current information is weak, if not non-existent.

At what price are these metals sold and what do crematoriums do with the money collected?

Gold is a metal that is indeed very expensive, but it is present in very small quantities, so it represents small quantities. Once this waste is collected, it is processed in factories and then resold. The proceeds from this sale are used to cover the costs of collection, processing, etc. The remaining amount generally returns to the crematorium environment: either the administrator gives this sum to the Fondation de France, or a decision is made with the community on the allocation of this sum (charitable associations, municipal social action centers, etc.). – or this money can return to the accounts of the crematoriums to carry out work, for example. Here too, as a federation, we want more transparency: if there is a sum resulting from the transformation, there must be a clear rule on what happens with that sum. It is not about “making money off the dead.”

We are talking about a “market” worth 2 million euros a year. Do you confirm?

I don't have a concrete idea, but I will say that it is not impossible. The truth is that no one knows the exact amount. The unit value is necessarily low, but there have nevertheless been a significant number of cremations, that is, about 240,000 last year in France.

(1) “Dearly loved funerals: investigation into the business of death”, documentary by Donation Lemaître that will be broadcast on “Pièces à conviction” this Wednesday, January 22, starting at 11 p.m. on France 3. The investigation will be followed by a debate. moderated by Virna Sacchi who will receive Antoine Autier, deputy director of investigations at UFC-Que Choisir, and Ophélie Chauffert, head of Chauffert's funeral directorate.

(2) Crematoriums are facilities co-managed with municipal services or entrusted, through a delegation of public services, to a private or mixed economy company. The two team managers are both the manager as such, but also the community that, every year, must hold an annual board meeting with analysis of the results, comments, etc.

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