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Elephant Dung Paper

Alternative, innovative and sustainable ways of producing paper.

Nature does not produce useless waste, everything is functional to the well-being of the environment.

There is not only cellulose or wood pulp among the raw materials used for making paper. In fact, there are other elements found in nature that can be used in the same way for a sustainable production, respecting the environment, while also reducing water consumption.

More and more alternatives to wood pulp paper are being created every day, from a whole range of materials such as cotton clothing, fruit, seaweed and… elephant dung.

We explore these possibilities in depth in the article Materials With Which to Make Paper (alternatives to trees).

These types of alternative paper are products of natural origin that require much less invasive processing than traditional paper and are, therefore, more sustainable. Plus, their unusual ingredients also make them perfect for artistic experiments, quirky prints, or even innovative packaging and gift wrapping. Among the most particular eco-sustainable, 100% recyclable papers in the world there is certainly Dung Paper, paper produced with elephant droppings mixed with paper mill scraps.

The responsible for this invention is the Maximus company, founded in Sri Lanka in 1997 by the General Manager Thusitha Ranasinghe. It is a company that employs only local forces and, in fact, with this particular paper and other organic waste it creates numerous objects by hand. This type of work is hand made and does not require any special skills. The company exports about 90% of its production and 80% of their production facilities are in rural areas of the country. Maximus is dedicated to safeguarding not only the environment, but also the animals themselves, with projects in support of the fauna and the local population. A commitment that awarded Maximus several times internationally. The particular processing allows to obtain the paper by drying, boiling, kneading and a final phase in which the product is squeezed and spread in sheets. Its peculiar characteristics are given by the high presence of fibers in the waste of the elephant, an animal that loves to eat plants, leaves and bark.

The entire production process is eco-friendly as:

  • only organic, non-toxic raw materials are used
  • this type of card avoids the destruction of hectares of forest and safeguards the elephants.
  • no industrial equipment is used and this reduces the problem of toxic waste often linked to their use.

But why elephant dung?

The founder of Maximus soon realized that elephant droppings were also ideal for paper production. Consider that the Sri Lankan elephant, even if less massive than the African one, produces from 180 to 200 kg of dung per day. So what raw material is more abundant and cheaper than this? Furthermore, elephant droppings have a huge advantage: they don’t stink! This is possible because the stomachs of these herbivorous giants are very short. Their food, made up exclusively of leaves, small branches, and brushwood, is eliminated before it ferments. The result is a dung rich in fibre, the raw material of paper.

Elephant Dung Paper.

The paper is made from 75% elephant dung. It is sterilized and free of bacteria and lends itself to various uses. The difference between the various batches of paper depends on the diet, age and dental status of the elephant. The color varies according to the food consumed: coconut, Kitul or Jak. The consistency of this eco-friendly paper depends on the chewing of the elephant. Fully digested food will give a smooth paper while less chewed food will give a coarser fiber and therefore the lot will be wrinkled.

Sustainable paper and fair trade.

Based in rural areas of Sri Lanka including Kegalle, Kandalama, Sigiriya and Habarna, Maximus is a fair trade organization committed to the ideal of sustainable development and the health and welfare of humans, animals and the environment, which has been producing elephant dung paper since 1997. For many years there have been problems between farmers and elephant communities inhabiting rural areas of Sri Lanka. Due to the reduction of their natural habitat, elephants have created problems for farmers by eating their crops. The conflict between the two communities has sadly resulted in the death of thousands of elephants.

Overcoming these issues was a matter of great concern to many, and so the Maximus Elephant Conservation Trust was founded to foster a positive relationship between communities and elephants, aiming for ‘conservation through innovation’. Now that the dung is being used to make paper, farmers and rural communities can profit from the dung harvesting, providing them with an economic benefit for the elephant to live together. They also employ and train local artisans to design the products, promoting the mutually beneficial relationship and making a real difference to the lives of both the people and the elephants.