Council’s pledge to relatives over cremation remains recycling

Roselawn Crematorium
Roselawn Crematorium

Precious and other metals will continue to be separated from cremated remains but a new process means bereaved families will now be better informed about the process.

Following a recent revelation that Belfast City Council’s crematorium at Roselawn had removed and recycled almost two tonnes of jewellery and surgical implants, as well as things like coffin handles, the council has acted to ensure relatives understand the non-profit-making scheme.

Since it began in 2010, metal worth £30,000 has been shipped to the Netherlands where a specialist company sorted the material, which was ultimately reused for a wide range of objects including road signs and aircraft engines.

As a result, around £7,000 has been donated to charity each year.

When an investigation was carried out by The Detail website, it was discovered that the city council was not routinely informing relatives of the recycling in line with industry guidelines.

In response, a new form has been issued to funeral directors which asks a family representative to acknowledge they have been informed of, and understand, the process.

A report presented to the council on Monday night also called for funeral directors to “advise families to remove jewellery prior to the final closure of the coffin”.

Councillor Jim Rodgers, who sits on the Parks and Leisure Committee which oversees the running of the Roselawn facility, said the committee moved quickly once they became aware of the practice.

“This issue should have been brought before the committee but it wasn’t,” he said.

“Then it was discovered, during a visit about three years ago, we were told that these bits and pieces, including screws and nuts and jewellery, were just thrown in the skip and taken away.

“Then this arrangement was made with a company and we were quite annoyed when it was brought to our attention. We have now decided there has got to be a process.”

Mr Rodgers said the council had issued a reminder to funeral directors urging families to retain valuable and sentimental items.

“At a time of death, many people will tell you they just aren’t thinking right so they need help and advice and I know the funeral directors do a brilliant job on behalf of the council.

“But it is known for some people to even have their OBE or MBE on them in the coffin, or gold chains around their neck.”

He added: “If you are given the urn with your loved one’s ashes, all of those bits and pieces will have been taken out of it.

“We have got to get rid of the screws and nuts somewhere but this [recycling] is what was going on unknown to us.”

Only 18 per cent of families in Northern Ireland opt for cremation as opposed to burial. In the rest of the UK the cremation rate is higher than 70 per cent.

Metals remaining after cremation are removed with either tongs or a magnet and placed in a recycling container. They include gold, silver and palladium but the vast majority originates from implants such as metal hips and ornaments placed in coffins.