When I mention paper made from elephant poo (or dung, if you prefer), most people get a horrified look on their faces. (If you’ve already heard of the paper, what was YOUR first reaction?) Everything from business cards to Christmas greetings can be printed on the stuff, which is a bit linen-y, quite soft, and takes color brilliantly. There’s not just one, but two companies that make ‘poo paper’; Mr. Ellie Pooh and Elephant Dung Paper both offer a number of printed and plain paper products. And yes, the poop is treated for any nasties as part of the paper-making process.
One of the best — and simultaneously frustrating — parts of being human, is how totally sensible we are sometimes (stop lights and standing on lines, so smart!), and how totally insensible we are at others. Take the recycling of water; in California, water reuse is de rigueur for parts of Orange County and San Diego – but it took a loooong fight to get to the point where water could be recycled. So-called toilet-to-tap facilities just plain freaked people out. And not due to hardcore scientific objections, but because people in the area deemed it “gross.”
Interestingly, the original impetus behind Mr. Ellie Pooh and Elephant Dung Paper wasn’t sustainable packaging (that was an added bonus), but the fact that in Sri Lanka, unlike most other areas of the world, there are an abundance of elephants – so much so that they’re considered a nuisance. Creating a market for their excrement makes them valuable to the local people. And elephants, being large, poop a lot. So poo paper was a no brainer!
Because elephants are vegetarian animals, their dung is pretty much just dried-out plants that are partially digested, much like horse droppings. But there are more uses for the cheap, cellulose-rich material than just paper. If processed more thickly, boxes can be made of the excrement, and naturally, these containers are totally biodegradable. But so’s regular cardboard, you say? Well yes, but since elephant poop is a natural by-product from the animal, when it’s not used, it pretty much goes to waste, unlike wood pulp, where the tree has to grow, be cut down, hauled to a mill, and undergo an energy-intensive process to become paper or cardboard. Basically, the elephant does the first few steps for us, so poo paper uses much less energy to create. And it’s free for those who want to collect it!