Elephant Dung Paper
Why should I be aware of this?
Supporting the elephant dung paper industry has many advantages:
- Elephant dung is a renewable source of raw material, unlike wood pulp, the traditional raw material for paper, which denudes forests. This makes it an environmentally responsible alternative to ordinary paper.
- Elephant dung is a waste product and is free. Making paper from it makes good business sense.
- Such paper is made in places like Sri Lanka and Thailand where elephants are often viewed as agricultural pests. Making paper from their dung enables locals to see elephants as assets rather than liabilities. In fact, many elephant reserves in these countries are using the income from elephant dung paper to support their elephant conservation efforts.
All about elephant dung paper
Elephants excrete as much as 50 per cent of what they eat. That, experts say, is normally between 200kg to 250kg of food a day. Since their diet is all vegetarian, the waste produced is basically raw cellulose, raw material from which paper is made.
In effect, the pachyderms perform the first stage of any paper-making process when they excrete dung, that is getting the fibre. Few accurate estimates are available, but elephant dung makers say they need approximately 15kg of elephant dung to make 500 sheets of thin paper. The texture and colour of the paper depends on the elephant's diet.
First, elephant dung is collected and dried. Then it is washed thoroughly with water and disinfectant so that only the fibre is left. The remaining fibre is carefully sorted to remove all non-dung fibres (which might have stuck to the dung that is often collected from roadsides or reserved forests). After it is sorted, it is boiled for at least four hours in a vat, to ensure the fibres are clean and soft. The manufacturing process thereafter is similar to that of handmade paper. The boiled pulp is then put through pulp beaters. Colours or dyes are added when the pulp is beaten in the beater. Then the pulp is mixed with water, and lifted up on flat sieves, to dry into reams of paper. Once the paper has dried, it is either smoothened by stones or by passing it through a calendering machine to make it smooth and usable.
Elephant dung paper is uniquely textured and has a papyrus-like quality. It can be used to make many different products, such as stationery items, diaries, greeting cards and coasters, in a wide variety of styles and colours. Elephant dung can also be blended with a great variety of fibres and dyes to make it interesting and commercially viable.
Elephants are uniquely bad digesters of food, excreting pretty much half of what they eat (mostly fibre), unchanged. Which is why their dung makes fine paper. Most other grass and straw eaters digest their food better, so the fibre in their dung is not long enough to make good paper.
However, in South Africa, some people have successfully made paper with rhino dung mixed with elephant dung. In addition, Kangaroo poo paper is being made commercially in Australia for a while now. And there are papermakers in parts of North America and Europe experimenting with Reindeer, Donkey and Camel poo.
- Elephant Poo Poo Paper
- Elephant dung paper