Author – Smuruthi Kesavan
Elephants are a common sight in Jaipur’s tourist areas. They ferry tourists to forts and shrines atop hills. As a result, mounds of elephant dung lying around are a sight that is hard to miss. Tourists groan out of disgust about it, but this smelly mess inspired Mahima Mehra to think about how this abundant natural resource can be utilized. As an old saying goes, an elephant is worth a thousand gold pieces when alive and just as much in death!
Typically, an elephant consumes about 250 kg of food daily and produces 100 kg of dung. Since elephants are herbivores, their waste product contains a lot of cellulosic fiber that is ideal for making paper. So this huge quantity of dung can be turned into eco-friendly gold i.e. paper.
An inspired Mahima Mehra launched her entrepreneurial venture ‘Haathi Chaap’, to produce elephant poo paper, which is eco-friendly and recyclable. Elephant dung is used as a raw material to produce paper that is useful for creating products such as bags, photo frames, notebooks, stationery, cards, tags, and other knick-knacks.
Haathi Chaap’s paper is colored using vegetable dyes that are environmentally safe. Further, the waste water generated in the papermaking process is discharged into agricultural fields, which it acts as a fertilizer. The color of the paper manufactured depends on the elephants’ food, which varies according to the season. The paper produced is dark if mainly jowar and bajra are consumed (June-September) and light when the food consists of predominantly sugarcane (other months).
Processing the elephant poo paper
Elephant poo paper is produced from a similar process as that of normal handmade paper, with some changes to handle the highly fibrous raw material. Disinfectants are used to make the paper bacteria free.
- Elephant dung collected from various elephant stables is first cleaned with water in large tanks. This stage is crucial, since cleaning washes away waste and leaves behind only fiber. The waste water from cleaning is let into agricultural fields where it serves as an excellent fertilizer.
- The residual fiber needs to be softened before pulping, so it is cooked in water for 4-5 hours with salt and washed with hydrogen peroxide to remove bacteria.
- After cooking, excess water is drained and the softened fiber is dried under the sun. Any unusable fiber is removed.
- The dried fiber is inserted into a Hollander beater to be pulped. This four-hour long process results in a very fine pulp that is then washed and disinfected again to remove any residual bacteria.
- The cleaned pulp is mixed with water in large wooden or cement vats. The quantity of water added depends on the weight of paper required. The pulp is then lifted out using a sieve-like mould and a sheet is made.
- Next, the sheets are placed on a muslin cloth by applying gentle pressure on the mould. A heap of about hundred sheets is produced per day.
- The sheets are subsequently placed on a hydraulic press to drain excess water. They are then dried in a shady area. Sun-drying is avoided as it is faded the paper.
- The sheets are calendered by interleaving them between layers of metal sheets coated with zinc and passing them between two rollers. This process makes the paper smooth and writable. The paper is then cut into required dimensions and packed.
Advantages of using elephant poo paper:
- Elephant poo paper is eco-friendly.
- Its production does not require cutting of trees or harmful chemicals.
- The waste generated is eco-friendly and can be let out into farms.
- Only natural dyes are used.
Thus, our childhood friend the elephant can be a useful ally in conserving the environment as well. The elephant poo paper is an innovative idea that can save mother earth by reducing deforestation. Let’s all go green, elephant style!