Turning Animal Waste into Paper
Animal waste is a messy fact of daily life in rural communities across the global South. This by-product of life has many uses but an ingredient for making writing paper is probably not the first that springs to mind. But animal dung is cleverly being recycled into high-value products in Sri Lanka and Thailand. Animal waste has many uses: it can be turned into fertilizer for crops and fuel for cooking, placed in a digester and fermented into biogas for heating, and, cooking, and, if from a herbivore, into fibrous products such as paper and cardboard. Packing boxes can also be made from the excrement.
Since the elephant is a vegetarian its excrement or dung is made up of vegetable matter and is rich in cellulose. And cellulose is what makes up the majority of traditional wood-pulp paper.
Dung produces a natural, recycled paper. While harvesting trees for paper is an expensive and energy-wasting process, the elephant’s digestive tract does the hard work by breaking down the cellulose, making it ideal for the next stage in becoming a paper product.
The Elephant Dung Paper company in Thailand was one of the first to pioneer the technique. This business was started by dung paper pioneer Mr. Wan Chai. He tells a story of how he became enchanted by the paper-making process when he walked past a paper factory one day. Later, when he was at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, northern Thailand, he noticed that the elephant dung was rich in fibres like those used in making paper from wood pulp.
Another dung paper business is Mr. Ellie Pooh in Sri Lanka. Established with the goal of reducing conflict between humans and elephants, it has turned to making paper products to boost local incomes and create a direct economic incentive to protect the elephants. It is setting up handmade paper workshops in rural areas and teaming them up with artisans to add value to the products
Inspired, he embarked on a process of trial and error using his wife’s food processor to turn elephant dung into a fibrous stew that is then shaped, dyed and dried to make paper. and make them more desirable. Design is critical to making any product – no matter how ethically produced and how green – desirable to consumers. The dung products that Mr. Ellie Pooh makes include a wide variety of coloured papers, scrapbooks, note boxes, stationery pouches, greeting cards, “to do” list pads, memo books and a children’s book.
The process of making elephant dung paper takes about 13 days: three days of sorting, boiling and disinfecting, followed by 10 days to pulp, mix, press and dry the paper. Mr. Ellie Pooh makes about 1,000 sheets a day and 30,000 a month. Each sheet makes six A4-size pieces of paper.
The company was founded by Dr. Karl Wald and Thusitha Ranasinghe and is managed by recycled paper firm Ecomaximus based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a workshop in Kegalle. – (January 2011)
The elephant excrement is laid out flat and then dried to make paper.
perindustry/confirm.htm • elephantdungpaper.com • changthai.com • mrelliepooh.com • ecomaximus.com