Apologies for weirdness.

Of the various legal methods of disposing of a human corpse, which one ensures the nutrients which compose the body get back into the wider ecosystem the fastest?

Unless I've overlooked something (which is likely) the answer would seem to boil down to:

  • Burial, in which case soil microbes have relatively free access to the body but will initially restrict their nutrients to the sub-soil ecosystem.

  • Cremation, in which case most of the nutrients are converted into heat and light energy by the furnace, although this energy, and the remaining nutrients, are then made available to the wider environment much more rapidly.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In terms of cremation: Which remaining nutrients? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Mar 26 '14 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ No idea. I presumed that not everything in the human body was easily oxidized? $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Mar 26 '14 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Well, we are talking about 60-90 min (if I remember correctly) at temperatures of 900°C. There nothing carbon based will survive. The remains are basically the mineral parts of the body. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Mar 26 '14 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you can remove the word "legal" from the question. I think there is no law on how to deal with a corpse. Even if there is one it will not be universal. $\endgroup$
    Mar 27 '14 at 13:34

The Parsis and other Zoroastrians dispose of their dead in a so-called Tower of Silence, where the body is left on a raised platform to be eaten by scavengers, particularly birds such as vultures.

This is possibly (probably?) the quickest way for nutrients to re-enter the wider ecosystem, as scavengers usually work a whole lot quicker than microbes.

Tibetan tradition also contains a ritual known as the Sky Burial, which achieves the same sort of thing. The Tibetan version may be even quicker, as once the scavengers have stripped the body, the bones are ground into a paste along with flour and yak's milk/butter to be fed to a second round of scavenging birds.


Well, with cremation comes also a lot of harmful gasses entering the atmosphere as well, and from your question, I'm assuming you're interested in eco-friendly alternatives.

I've heard of organic embalming fluids, so it might be interesting to you to look into that. Also a lot of steel and cement go into a traditional burial; if you were to be buried in a plain pine box with no fancy coatings or finishings, that would certainly speed up decomposition. If you look at traditional Jewish burial customs, you may find a bit of what you're looking for.


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