Secrets of Green Cultures Part III: Recycling Forefathers

romanOkay they may not be your direct forefathers but they sure knew the meaning of recycling. As Earth Day reminds us of the full spectrum of going green, and staying there, it is recycling that seems to rule the roost since day one. Local communities have adhered to state requirements by dragging their designated ‘blue box’ to the curb or apartment basement, filled with plastic, glass, paper and the like, for a concerted recycling effort. Although much of this effort has been legislatively forced upon residents, it seems that it has also opened the minds of many that would have otherwise ignored such an essential practice. Interestingly, modern man could have easily embraced a recycling practice that was being implemented long ago. Here are a few:

Roman PDA

Ancient Romans created an ingenious recycling writing device that can almost be compared to the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) of today. It was a wooden writing board about the size of an iPad that was covered in beeswax. They would write on it using a stylus-like object such as a reed or stick to inscribe notes, poems, ledgers and more. When they wanted to start over, they gathered the spent shavings and pressed them back into the tablet or covered it with more beeswax. In fact, there are ancient pictures depicting people using this device with a hinged cover attached that eerily looks like they are working on a laptop. This was a unique green approach to saving paper which, at the time, was scarce and expensive due to the painstaking handmade process. It is also an indication of where modern society may be heading if it continues to deplete its natural resources.


Recycling is not always relegated to paper, glass, plastic or metal. Sometimes it is the use of one’s own body fluids that can be recycled for the greater good. This was the case in medieval Europe when it was discovered that the high amount of ammonia in human urine was capable of softening and cleaning wool before dying and was used to extract dye colors from plants as well as “fix” them later if needed. The urine was collected from chamber pots and public urinals to be put to use for this practice. Even during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the British empire considered it unpatriotic to discard of urine as it was needed for the production of soldier’s red coats.

Viking Recycling

It seems that in 2009 workers may have found a Viking metal recycling center in what is now the town of York, England. Remnants of weaponry was the first discovery but upon closer inspection it seemed that much of the found weapons were made of partially melted swords, axes, arrowheads and more. It was theorized that after battle, Vikings would bring their damaged weapons (and those obtained from their enemies) to this medieval melting pot to obtain newly crafted wares. Not far off from the ‘blue bin’ contents taken to the nearby center in your town.

These are only a few examples of the many forms of secret recycling that past cultures have practiced. It is by far a testament to why Earth Day is so important given that healing our planet may very well be in our DNA.

Next up: Secrets of Green Cultures Part IV: Food Preservation


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