Starweek Magazine

Don’t pooh-pooh this business

Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Did you know that elephants can eat as much as 200 kilos of food a day? And did you also know they can excrete 100 kilos of waste daily? That means a lot of poo and a lot of fiber to make paper with.

In the outskirts of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, an enterprising lady started to find more uses for elephant poo, cow poo and horse poo. As these animals are vegetarians, their poo has no foul smell and can be handled without much difficulty.

“We only need to help feed the elephants in the mountains,” our tour guide says. The enterprise called Elephant Poopoo Paper Company supplies food like bananas and vegetables to the pachyderms and in turn is able to bring down their poo everyday, which becomes their raw material for handmade paper.

Talk about saving trees, which our usual paper supply is made of. If we stop cutting trees for paper and instead used poo of ruminants like cows and horses and elephants (if we have them in the country), we would address the need for aforestation or reforestation. That is an added result of working with poo. If you cannot plant trees, then at least use the poo to make paper.

The new business model also allows tourists to make their own handmade paper. For THB200 (about P260) a guide takes you to several nipa huts where the step-by-step process is shown and shared with visitors. No secrets. Just sharing of good ideas about using what otherwise would just be waste matter and turning them into bright colored paper, notebooks, notepads and many more by-products.

The poo is first cleaned in water by boiling for about two to three hours to separate fiber from clay. The fiber is then made into pulp using a mixer run by electricity. The mixer goes on for about three hours, mixing the fiber and adding food color in case one wants a brighter tone or hue. Everything is organic and natural. They also use natural dyes from vegetables and bark.

Once the pulp is ready, they are shaped into balls which are enough to fill a screen tray where the now pressed paper will dry to a finish. The screen trays are immersed in water and one only has to distribute the pulp evenly so the sheet of paper will be whole and will have no holes.

I tried doing it and it was a breeze making your own pulp to paper. After laying the pulp on the screen, you can now arrange the tray standing up on an incline under the sun for 6-8 hours. The result? Handmade paper, instantly made from recycled waste.

What I found interesting is that besides animal poo, you can also use fruit fiber like coconut, pineapple, corn, sugarcane and bananas! After the step-by-step instructions visitors can make their own notebooks, scrapbooks using the materials the store has already prepared (cut out letters, animal figures, etc).

It is an eco-friendly business that turns everything that is waste into useful paper and paper products. And best of all, it can be done with simple equipment which does not seem like rocket science. As our guide says, “This is not new. The idea of using waste is not new.” But sharing the way to do it is what’s new. Now, people share business ideas so many more can replicate the business model and save the Earth!

It is called the Elephant Poopoo Paper Park and what will surprise you is that it is doable, replicable and a lot of fun. Here in the Philippines, it can be carabaos, horses and cows.

So don’t pooh-pooh this venture that turns poopoo into paper.

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