Health

How Implants and Prosthetic Limbs Get Recycled and Reused

Sarah Zhang, Gawker Media

How Implants and Prosthetic Limbs Get Recycled and Reused

Every year, millions of pacemakers, metal hips, and prosthetics outlast the bodies they're designed for. But these medical devices could very well go on to have a second-life-in cars, wind turbines, and even another person.

The implants are, after all, full of valuable metals like titanium or cobalt alloy. Cremation makes the metals easily recoverable, writes Frank Swain in a fascinating investigation into the afterlife of medical devices.

The Dutch company Orthometals, for example, collects 250 tons of metal every year from European crematoriums and sells it all to car and airplane manufacturers. The city of Bristol in England has even proposed recycling these metals into road signs . And, in the U.S., Implant Recycling sells crematorium metal back to medical device makers. So there's never telling where grandma's old hip might end up.

For more complicated devices like pacemakers and prosthetic limbs, charities are at the forefront of a growing movement to repurpose them in developing countries. The UK charity Pace4Life goes to funeral parlors, where it collects pacemakers for use in India, and the Tennessee-based Stand With Hope sends prosthetic limbs to Ghana-just to name a few.

But plenty of implants still get buried with the people they're in. "So it's likely that the archaeologists of future centuries will uncover peculiar objects in the graves of the millennial dead: silicone bags, plastic teeth and sculpted metal bones," writes Swain. You have to wonder what cyborg graveyard future archeologists will think they have encountered, but heck, they'll probably be be real cyborgs by then. [BBC]

Top image: Stuart Monk/Shutterstock

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