By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
Animal waste is a messy fact of daily life in rural communities across the global South. This byproduct 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. Both countries have elephants who are under threat. In Sri Lanka (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lanka) the large but endangered elephant population is considered a nuisance. They damage crops and are often killed for this reason. There are upwards of 3,000 elephants in the country – down from 14,000 in the 1800s. Nonetheless, they create vast quantities of excrement. In Sri Lanka, they face many threats: ivory poachers, being killed to protect crops and houses, starvation from drought and deforestation.
Animal waste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feces) has many uses: it can be turned into fertilizer for crops, fuel for cooking, placed in a digester and fermented into bio-gas for heating and cooking, and if from a herbivore animal, into fibrous products like paper and cardboard. Packing boxes can also be made from the excrement.
As a vegetarian animal, elephants’ excrement and dung is made up of vegetable matter and is rich in cellulose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose). And cellulose is what makes up the majority of traditional wood-pulp paper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_%28paper%29).
Re-using the waste is also a good way to make elephants valuable to local people, rather than just being perceived as a nuisance.
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.
According to the Environmental Paper Network (http://www.environmentalpaper.org/stateofthepaperindustry/confirm.htm), 50 percent of the world’s forests have been destroyed, and 80 percent of the remaining forests are in a degraded state. By turning to alternative sources to make paper, trees are saved and vast quantities of energy reduced. Traditional paper-making also uses many chemicals in the process, something that is avoided in using animal dung. Vegetable products are used to bind the paper together and water-soluble dyes are used to colour the paper.
Dung paper has earned some high-profile fans as well. The Turner Prize-winning British/Nigerian artist Chris Ofili (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Ofili), uses elephant dung paper in his works.
The Elephant Dung Paper company (www.elephantdungpaper.com) 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 (http://www.changthai.com), he noticed the elephant dung was rich in fibres like those used in making paper from wood pulp.
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 (http://www.elephantdungpaper.com/process.html).
Wan Chai has gone on to be a formative influence in the founding of a sheep dung paper making operation in Britain, Creative Paper Wales.
Another dung paper business is Mr. Ellie Pooh (http://www.mrelliepooh.com/) 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 with artisans to add value to the products 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 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 (http://www.ecomaximus.com/) based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a workshop in Kegalle.
Ecomaximus was started in 1997 by its Managing Director, Ranasinghe, who was following a family tradition going back three generations of working in printing.
The business started recycling waste printing paper and then moved into recycling a wide variety of other cellulose waste: rice paddy straw, cinnamon and banana bark. It now employs over 35 people on two sites.
It is proof that it just takes creativity and a new perspective to turn something considered as waste into wealth: and jobs and sustainable incomes.
1) Creative Paper Wales: Makers of Sheep Poo Paper, this company in Wales uses sheep dung to make a range of paper products. Sheep are plentiful in Wales and are found all over the hills grazing. Website: http://www.creativepaperwales.co.uk/index.aspx
2) Paper High sells online paper products made from Sri Lankan elephant dung. This includes note books, greeting cards, photo frames, and photo albums. Website: http://www.paperhigh.com/products/srilanka/srilanka.htm?gclid=CKbHrdaZv6YCFQkf4Qod-hzaHg
3) Red Dot: Red dot stands for belonging to the best in design and business. It champions design in business through awards and events. Website: http://en.red-dot.org/
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