cremation Eco-Death

Nuts and Bolts! Nuts and Bolts! Dead Bodies Rule!

The Afterlife of Artificial Hips and Knees
Clark Boyd and Rob Hugh-Jones
PRI’s The World via BBC News (February 21, 2012)
The metal used in surgical implants can be melted down and recycled after people are cremated, and these days it often is.

Long time readers of the Death Reference Desk might remember this August 2009(!) post: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – the Dead… I mention this particular post because the BBC News and PRI’s The World radio programme just did a piece on a Dutch company that recycles metal implants used in humans.

Here’s the rub: the metal implants are recycled after an individual is cremated.

In all honesty, there isn’t much new about this technology but since the process involves dead bodies it is always fascinating.

Indeed, if you would like a full rundown on everything Eco-Death then click away. We’ve been covering this topic since Death Ref took its first humble steps.Hip Joint

There isn’t a ton of money to be made in postmortem-human-implant-metal-recycling but that is probably ok.

And who knows where the implant metal recycling market will lead. I am keeping my eye on a Detroit, MI company, Implant Recycling, in the hopes that one day Motor City will rise again by cornering the market.

That particular Renaissance would be only too fitting.

cremation Death + the Economy

More Americans Choosing Cremation to Save Money

In Tough Times, a Boom in Cremations as a Way to Save Money
Kevin Sack, The New York Times (December 09, 2011)
If current American trends hold, in 2017, more bodies will be cremated than buried, and funeral directors say the cost is a major factor in the decision.

When the Death Reference Desk started in July 2009, we immediately began discussing death, dying, the dead body and the economy. You can read all of those posts in the Death + the Economy section. I mention these pieces on the postmortem economy (for lack of a better term) since most of the articles tell, and then eventually re-tell, the same story. The New York Times, as one example, has repeatedly run articles with the same basic lead: overall funeral costs have gotten so high that many Americans are choosing cremation instead of burial to save money.


The wider socio-economic picture is complicated but on the whole this analysis is correct. What makes this particular New York Times article slightly different than its progenitors is the focus on how different communities make funeral choices based on costs. The article discusses how African-Americans in parts of Virginia historically resisted cremation since it suggested poverty. There are some significant religious reasons involved too, i.e., a long tradition of the Black Church funeral complete with a burial.

The shift towards cremation for American funerals will not change. Indeed, it appears that more Americans than not will be choosing cremation in the very near future.

cremation Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture Eco-Death Monuments + Memorials

Praise the Lord and Pass the Cremated Remains Filled Ammunition

Holy Smoke
Planning a loved ones final arrangements can be a challenging responsibility, one you want to do with care and consideration. Allow Holy Smoke to help you create a tribute to your outdoorsman or woman like no other.

So yeah. I had heard about people loading ammunition with human cremated remains and then shooting the ammo but I did not know, until this week, that a company would do it for you.

And based on the reaction of my British friends (I live in England), many people still do not believe it is possible. And/or, the loading of live gun ammunition with human cremated remains is a distinctly American form of memorialization. Not unlike spelling memorialization with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’.

Take that Red Coats!

But I digress.

Here at the Death Reference Desk we believe in presenting the full monty when it comes to contemporary forms of postmortem memorials. So a company such as Holy Smoke is due some respect for combining two of America’s great past times: shooting bullets and capitalism. Not necessarily in that order.

But lo, what might you receive when purchasing Holy Smoke’s ammo? Well, their website explains:

Once the caliber, gauge and other ammunition parameters have been selected, we will ask you (by way of your funeral service provider) to send approximately one pound of the decedents ash to us. Upon receiving the ashes our professional and reverent staff will place a measured portion of ash into each shotshell or cartridge. (Please note that our process uses only a portion of the ash from a typical cremation.)


Example: 1 Pound of ash is enough to produce 250 shotshells (one case).

Now, I’m not a gun person (even though I grew up in the great state of Wisconsin) so 250 shotgun shells sounds like a lot of ammo. I can’t imagine firing a gun 250 times to remember a person I loved.

Unless, of course, you’re using the Holy Smoke ammunition to defend the human race against the imminent Zombie Apocalypse!

Burial Cemeteries cremation Death + Technology Eco-Death

Dead Body and Technology Lecture Tuesday April 19

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass
An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath
Tuesday, April 19 at 8:00pm

Hello Death Reference Desk readers. Next Tuesday, April 19 I am giving a talk in Brooklyn, New York for the Observatory group and the Morbid Anatomy Library. My good friend Joanna Ebenstein runs the Morbid Anatomy Library and she is the hippest, coolest, pathological anatomical specimen collector you will ever meet.

Next Tuesday’s talk is on research that I am doing about new(ish) forms of dead body disposal. These newer postmortem technologies will most certainly become more prevalent in the future and I will discuss their impact on the dead body.

Nothing says HOT HOT TUESDAY NIGHT to me like pictures of new machines which dissolve dead bodies.

Here is a full description for the talk.

Please check it out if you can.

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass

An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath

Date: Tuesday April 19th
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5


As people become more and more interested in the environmental impacts of their daily lives, some individuals are asking: How green is death? What are the environmental impacts associated with handling the dead body? Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director at the Centre for Death & Society, University of Bath, England, will discuss the environmental issues which surround current post-mortem options, from burial to cremation to biomass tissue digestion. Dr. Troyer will discuss new research exploring how heat-capture technology currently used at the Haycombe Crematorium in Bath reduces both mercury emissions and offers a potentially viable energy source for the local community.

Soylent Green isn’t just people. It’s now.

Cemeteries cremation Death + Technology Eco-Death Funeral Industry

The Ultimate in Going Green: New Research into Postmortem Options with John Troyer

Crematorium to Keep Mourners Warm by Burning Bodies of Loved Ones
The Daily Mail (January 08, 2008)


Eco-Death Articles and Information
Put Together by The Death Reference Desk Cadaver Team (Meg, Kim, and John)

So in January 2008, I read an article in the UK’s Daily Mail about a Manchester crematorium that captured its heat exhaust, filtered out mercury and other problematic materials, and then re-used the heat for keeping the attached chapel warm. The Daily Mail is a notoriously scandal mongering tabloid so it was clear that this story was supposed to cause some kind of outrage. The problem for the Mail was this: no one complained about what the crematorium was doing and, more importantly, people really liked the idea.

I read this article while I was still living in America and well before I knew that I would end up working for the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath.

But then I got my current job at the University of Bath and one of the first things I did was start a project which examined how Bath’s local crematorium, Haycombe Cemetery and Crematorium, used heat capture technology.

This is a drastically shortened version of a story which has taken me on postmortem adventures that I never imagined.

So on December 21, 2010 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre in Minneapolis I am giving a talk about these adventures along with a broader look at the topic of ecologically friendly forms of final disposition.

Or, finding a greener shade of death.

The Bell Museum of Natural History’s Cafe Scientifique program is presenting the talk and I am extremely honored by this fact. Here is the official announcement:

The Ultimate in Going Green: New Research into Postmortem Options
Consumers are increasingly interested in the environmental impact of their personal choices, including their own end of life decisions. John Troyer, Deputy Director of the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society, will discuss the environmental impact of traditional burial and cremation practices, as well as new research into crematorium heat-capture technology which eliminates both mercury emissions and offers a potentially viable energy source.


Doors open at 6 p.m.
Food and Drink Available for Purchase
Tickets: $5-$12 Pay what you can
Call 612-825-8949 for reservations



John Troyer received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society in May 2006. His Ph.D. dissertation, entitled “Technologies of the Human Corpse,” was awarded the University of Minnesota’s 2006 Best Dissertation Award in the Arts and Humanities. From 2007-2008 he was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University teaching the cultural studies of science and technology. John is currently the Deputy Director and Death and Dying Practices Associate for the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society. Within the field of Death Studies, he analyzes the global history of science and technology and its effects on the dead body. He is a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Death Reference Desk website (, a frequent commentator for the BBC, and his first book, Technologies of the Human Corpse (University of North Carolina Press), will appear in 2012.

The University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society is the UK’s only centre devoted to the study and research of social aspects of death, dying and bereavement. It provides a centre for the social study of death, dying and bereavement and acts as a catalyst and facilitator for research, education and training, policy development, media, and community awareness.



The Bell Museum’s Café Scientifique is a program for adults that brings research from the University of Minnesota and beyond into some of the Twin Cities’ most unique and atmospheric bars and restaurants. The Bell Museum’s Café Scientifique explores science and natural history from distinct and surprising viewpoints, drawing connections between scientific research, culture, environment and everyday life.

Café Scientifique is co-sponsored by the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

The Bell Museum of Natural History

cremation Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Monuments + Memorials

If Cremated Human Remains Can’t Go In It Then You Don’t Need It

Company Presses Your Ashes Into Vinyl When You Die
Olivia Solon, Wired (August 27, 2010)

Many many people saw this Wired article on human cremains being mixed into vinyl records when it first popped up two weeks ago. I know that many people saw this article because everyone kept sending it to me and/or asking me about it. Then a Death Reference Desk Facebook “liker” put it on the Wall of Death, which meant that I had to do something other than just report this story. Our readers keep us on our toes.

After mulling over various story angles I realized that the most interesting thing to point out was this: Mixing cremated human remains into ANYTHING to produce an object of some kind which is then kept as a memorial isn’t new. In fact, Meg, Kim and I have been discussing the myriad ways human cremains get used since day one of Death Ref. You can read those posts here.

I was even in New York this summer giving a lecture on people who have cremated remains put into their Memorial Tattoos. The Comments Section for one of our Memorial Tattoo postings has morphed into a Q and A area for people who want to use created remains in a tattoo. I’m mentioning the tattoos and cremated remains because I know that people are fascinated by the concept.

So what And Vinyl is offering to do with cremated remains isn’t all that new but it is cool. The only problem that I have with the concept is this: I have no idea what record album I would choose and/or combination of songs. I’ve been thinking and thinking but I can’t come up with the perfect mix.

Anyway, the human-ash-pressed-into-vinyl story got me thinking about some of the other ways cremated remains are used to produce objects. These are just the ones I know about and could find. I even looked for companies putting cremated remains into glass bongs but I couldn’t find any. That said, I bet the entire cost of a Life Gem (please see below) that someone, somewhere is turning grandma’s ashes into a sweeeeeeeet smoker.

So, in no particular order we have:

Life Gem rings.

Customized Pencils

Ashes into Glass bowls, paperweights, and other designs.

Urns which look like YOUR HEAD.

Ashes which go into Space

Eternal Reefs and cremated remains in the ocean.

Fireworks which give ashes that rockets red glare feel.

Ashes into Art, which is similar to the Memorial Tattoos.

Huggable Urns in the shape of Teddy Bears. Wowza.

Hourglasses because like the sands….oh nevermind.

And remember: Most of these options also work for Pets. So that means you can have your pets’ created remains turned into a semi-precious stone, a memorial reef, and blasted into space.

I don’t know about the Head Urn but maybe.

cremation Death + Art / Architecture Monuments + Memorials

Morbid Ink: Lecture on Memorial Tattoos by John Troyer

Morbid Ink: Field Notes on the Human Memorial Tattoo
An Illustrated Lecture with Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director, Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath
Date: Tuesday July 20th, 2010
Time: 8:00pm
Admission: $5

On Tuesday, July 20 I am giving a talk in Brooklyn on memorial tattoos. The talk, Morbid Ink: Field Notes on the Human Memorial Tattoo, focuses on research that I have been doing for a number of years. Many thanks to Joanna Ebenstein who runs the Morbid Anatomy Library for inviting me to speak.

The academic side of this research has really only taken place during the last year. But the tattoo side of my work started in 1994 when I got my first memorial tattoo for my maternal grandfather. Since 1994, I have gotten a tattoo for each of my grandparents, in the order of their deaths, down my spine. I went to the same tattoo artist for each of the tattoos, Awen Briem, and you can see her work at her studio Art With a Point. In 2008, I got tattoos for both my parents (who are still alive) as a way of honoring them before they die. Each of these tattoos is a 1/4 long sleeve down both my left and right arms. Awen did an amazing job with these tattoos too.

All of this is to say that I have spent hours and hours (and more hours…) thinking and talking with Awen about why people get tattoos. It became apparent, based purely on Awen’s anecdotes, that memorial tattoos were becoming more and more common. In case you are looking for a definition, the Memorial Tattoo is most easily described as a tattoo which a person gets after someone they know dies. The deceased can be a good friend, a spouse, sibling, lover, etc. Now, the memorial tattoo can also be for a dead pet and I see this kind of tattoo more and more. Indeed, Awen ran some numbers and roughly 50% of her memorial tattoos are for pets. This all makes sense to me since pets became a companion species for humans long ago.

The talk on July 20th will discuss a variety of issues which I think memorial tattoos produce. Some of these issues include how meaning is assigned to a memorial tattoo, what marking a living body with representations of death entails, and current innovations in memorial tattooing.

I will also talk about the strange and peculiar avenues this particular research interest has taken me down. My favorite example is that the Death Reference Desk has itself become part of my research.

Last July, I posted an article on Death Ref about a gentleman who got cremated human remains mixed into the ink used for a memorial tattoo. As a result of that post, the Death Reference Desk has started receiving questions about the ins and outs of mixing cremated remains into tattoo ink.


And since Death Ref has always functioned as a reference desk, Meg, Kim and myself have responded to all the queries. Meg, in particular, has gone to great lengths to answer these questions and those responses are still available here: Using Cremains in Memorial Tattoos. You can also find more on memorial tattoos here.

It turns out that quite a few people have thought about/are thinking about mixing a pinch of human ash (almost always from the deceased) into the ink being used for a specific memorial tattoo.

I’m not surprised in the least. Within the logic of why people get memorial tattoos, it makes complete sense.

If you are in the Brooklyn area Tuesday and/or know someone who is, then send them to the Morbid Anatomy Library at 543 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York 11215 for the talk.

Cemeteries cremation Funeral Industry

Humans and Pets Cremating Together

Cremation Association of North America (CANA) and International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) Announce new Guidelines for Pet Cremation
Press Release, March 2010

Pet cremation is big business for human funeral homes looking to branch out into other industries. And normally I wouldn’t just trot out a press release for a Death Reference Desk post but this newly announce initiative about human and pet cremation groups coming together to produce guidelines really intrigued me.

Chicago, IL – The Cremation Association of North America (CANA), an international organization composed of cremationists, funeral directors, cemeterians, industry suppliers and consultants, and the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories, an international organization recognized as the authority in the pet aftercare industry, have been working together to develop industry guidelines for pet cremation practices.

The Press Release has two quote from each organization:

“There has been significant growth in pet cremation over that past ten years as families seek ways to appropriately memorialize a cherished pet,” said IAOPCC President Scott Hunter, “and at the same time owners want reassurance that the cremation facilities they use provide high quality services for their pets. By working with the Cremation Association of North America, we seek to establish standard industry terminology and practices for the proper respectful care of pets in memorial services.”


CANA President Bill McQueen noted, “As the premiere organization focused on all aspects of cremation service, CANA has been pleased to work with the IAOPCC to extend our knowledge and experience into developing broad-based guidelines for pet cremation. CANA’s highly regarded crematory operator certification program and model laws for cremation have significant application to practices in pet memorialization. CANA takes pride in being the cremation solutions community and is pleased to work with IAOPCC to extend the reach of our community.”

So there you have it. Pet Cremations and Human Cremations will finally find common ground. And new terms will be invented too. That’s even better.

Actually, I totally support pet cremation and I think that people should handle the death of a pet as they see fit. The death of a pet can be more heart braking than the death of a human relative. My only concern is that these new agreed upon standards don’t create higher prices. That seems to happen too.

cremation Death + the Economy Monuments + Memorials

Man Dying of Cancer Sells Ad Space on Urn

Springfield Man Selling Ad Space on His Urn
Laura Rillos, KVAL News

I have read many, many ridiculous death and dying stories over the years but this one is really amazing. The backstory itself isn’t ridiculous– it’s actually really sad and tragic.

On the one hand we’ve got an inspirational story about a guy with terminal cancer trying to make sure that his wife isn’t stuck with an expensive funeral bill. On the other hand, and this is the part of the story that you have to dig a little bit to find, Aaron Jamison is also using the money to cover his medical bills. The medical bills that he can’t afford to pay because his health insurance doesn’t cover the costs.

Think about this for a minute. A person with cancer needs to sell ad space on his urn to pay off his medical bills. This is what I meant by ridiculous. The whole situation is also slightly infuriating.

What Jamison is doing reminds me of a conceptual art piece by The Art Guys, entitled SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, in which they wore identical suits covered in corporate logos for a year (1998-1999). The Art Guys’ point was how commodified everything, including fashion, had become and it was funny.

Selling ad space on your future urn is clever but it isn’t particularly funny. And now that it’s clear a portion of the money will cover medical costs, I think that the whole situation is terrible.

Aaron Jamison has a website which he uses to update his ad space plan. I suggest checking it out.

Finally, here is a short video piece by KVAL News about Jamison and his urn:

Afterlife cremation Grief + Mourning

Fire, Beauty and Death in Bali

What does a cremation sound like? Most of us in the Western world would be hard-pressed to answer that question. Cremation is something that takes place out of sight, and for most, out of mind. The fiery furnaces are lit, the body is rolled in and a few hours later, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is sterile, it is discreet and it is solitary.

But if you could hear it, what would it sound like? If you could see it, what would it look like? And, indeed, what would it smell like? Seattle visual and sound artist Jesse Paul Miller and his wife Linda Peschong, a photographer, visited southeast Asia in the early part of 2008. Planning to stay only until June, they were able to extend their stay in Bali an extra month. July in Bali is cremation season. And to their delight, the largest of such public ceremonies involving cremation of royal family members was about to begin.

Through field recordings taken by Jesse, you can experience the aural intensity of the cremation ceremony itself. The rich, sonic landscape features crowd noises, gamelans, drums and chanting as the procession takes place. Have a listen!

cremation Death + the Law

UK Hindu Man is Burning Down the House

Hindu Wins Northumberland Funeral Pyre Battle
BBC News (February 10, 2010)

Hindu Man Wins Court Battle for Open-Air Cremation Pyre
Matthew Taylor The Guardian (February 10, 2010)

It has been a big week for cremation in the UK. On Wednesday, Davender Ghai, a 71-year old Hindu man from Newcastle won a landmark court case on Appeal. The Ghai case is fairly straightforward: when he dies, he wants to be cremated on an open air pyre, as opposed to inside an industrial grade crematorium furnace. Mr. Ghai is a devout Hindu so his request is grounded in religious reasons.

When Mr. Ghai first made the request in 2006, he was told ‘No’ by Newcastle officials. He then took his case to the UK Courts and kept losing until this most recent decision.

I am providing an extremely rushed explanation of the case. Burning through it, you might say. The Guardian and BBC News articles at the top explain the case history. I also wrote about Mr. Ghai’s case a few weeks ago on the Death Reference Desk.

So let’s skip ahead to why the Ghai case is important. Two important questions were pondered by the Appeals Court: 1.) What is a building, as stipulated in the 1902 Cremation Act? And, 2.) Does the mere thought of an open air pyre cause the general public mental anguish?

In a nutshell, Davender Ghai agreed to a pyre enclosed by four walls (with no ceiling) and his lawyers demonstrated that his request didn’t cause the general public mental angst. Indeed, it seems to me that this form of ‘natural cremation’ (a term cleverly invented by Mr. Ghai’s legal team) will have a huge appeal to all the natural and green burial people in the UK. How that gets managed is an entirely different question, since Mr. Ghai made his request based upon religious reasons.

More than anything, this case demonstrates that supposedly immutable death laws can be challenged and changed to encompass the world’s religions. And in the case of Mr. Ghai, his request faithfully follows the law.

Watch this video to see Devander’s Ghai’s happiness with the decision. I have never been happier for an individual’s eventual death…

Video: Devout Hindu wins funeral pyre fight – Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
Afterlife cremation Death + the Law

Open Air Cremations UK Style

Funeral Pyres judgment Reserved
BBC News (January 18, 2010)

Hindu Fights for Open-Air Cremation
Metro (January 18, 2010)

Last week, a really interesting and potentially important court case appeared before a British Appeals Court. A British Hindu man, Davender Ghai, wants permission from the Newcastle City government to have his body cremated on an open air pyre, which was banned in 2006.

There are several interesting angles to this story. First and foremost, every reason that the UK Courts have given as to why the open air cremations should not go forward is suspicious. Health and safety concerns can be easily monitored and controlled. Indeed, a health and safety officer could be dispatched to make sure that the law was followed and that the public health codes were not violated.

Perhaps the most significant (and unspoken) reason that the UK Courts have sided against Mr. Ghai is squeamishness. Given the fact that any number of UK Death Professionals (and I know of which I speak) could make sure that any open air cremation followed any and every conceivable best practice, the resulting reason seems to be that Court officials find the basic concept distasteful.

Unfortunately, that is not a legal reason to ultimately block Mr. Ghai’s funeral pyre wish.

The Appeals Court is expected to rule later in 2010.