Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can You Believe This?

I found this while looking for the obvious...And I thought it was strictly used to bury liberals and progressives.

Elephant Crap Art

What to do with a mountain of poo!

Elephant crap. You can actually do a lot with elephant crap. You wouldn’t think so, would you, I mean what does anyone ever do with crap except use it for fertiliser? Not much really, so, when an elephant takes a crap one might assume that that is the end of it- he eats, he digests, he craps, the crap would logically be left there in the jungle or shoveled into a massive pile of other elephant crap. Well, Wanchai Aswawibulkij of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang has discovered a new use for elephant excrement – he makes paper. The finished product looks much like mulberry paper, and is 100% environmentally friendly.

Martin Cummings, a Londoner and volunteer at the dung paper factory, became my trusty tour guide for the afternoon. We began by staring at a pile of elephant manure in the factory’s yard. He picked up a lump of faeces and stated, “this here, this here is good paper-making dung - full of grass, hardly any bananas or sugar cane in here… You see, the whole process starts with the elephant…”, as he crumbled the turd in his hand. Surprisingly, the dung has almost no odour. He explained that elephants eat between 200 and 400 kgs of food each day, due to the simplicity of their stomachs, 60% of this comes out undigested in a 50 kg load of dung each day. If the dung were to have a strong odour, it would be a serious indication that the elephant is sick.

The first step is to collect the dung and ‘wash’ it with lake water. Hours of hosing down piles of elephant dung leaves for a lot of waste water which is collected and used to make what they call bio-gas. This gas is pressurised in big tanks and used for cooking in and around the conservation centre. The next step is to boil the mucky dark brown excreta in barrel vats for 3-5 hours. The bubbling boiling steaming muck is scooped out of the vats and dumped in a concrete tub where it is washed again. Moving inside under the roof of the open factory, the next step is to add a mild chlorine-free bleaching agent to remove most of the brown colour. The dung is then squeezed to remove excess water and bleaching agent in a process much like old fashioned wine barrel stomping. The dung looks less like dung at this point and more like golden flax pulp. It is now entirely bacteria free; “so clean you could eat it if you want, but we don’t suggest it,” Cummings adds wryly.

The pulp is then mixed with water and put into a cutting machine that grinds the longer fibers into pulp and colour is added if desired. There is a kaleidoscope of tints added to produce a wide spectrum of colours. The pulp is then squeezed into 300 gramme balls, each of which makes one sheet of paper. The bright green balls the worker was handling look exactly like playdough, and it was a challenge to avoid grabbing one and playing with it. These balls are then mixed with water and carefully poured onto screens in a tub of water and lifted out to dry. Each sheet is peeled off the screen, sanded to soften the rough parts and run through a roller press to make it smooth enough for writing.

Variations in roughness of the finished product can help one speculate as to the age of the elephant whose dung it is. If the sheet is smooth and ‘well digested’ it is most likely from a younger animal, whereas aging elephants with older digestive systems and dulling teeth produce a more textured sheet. Watermelon seeds remain stuck in the surface of the paper, immortally preserved in some piece of crafty artwork after being eaten, digested, shoveled, soaked, boiled, bleached, chopped, dyed, sanded and rolled.

Low income communities are employed to make books and boxes with the paper, picture frames and letter sets. The entire process for making the paper from the end of the elephant to the finishing touches takes about 15 hours. One elephant can produce 115 sheets of paper a day. They will soon have the artistic talents of the elephant painters painting on dung paper - “if we are careful, we could have an elephant painting on his own dung!” Cummings exclaimed.

The elephant dung paper creates income for elephants, their communities and caretakers, the project employing upwards of 150 people from start to finish. Aswawibulkiji said he went through a long process of trial and error figuring out the process while bringing truckloads of dung back to his home. Much to his wife’s chagrin, he used her kitchen blender to experiment with his dung project (we are happy to announce that he has since got her a new one). His friends called him crazy but he didn’t care. Now his dung paper factory exports to the USA, Germany, Singapore, Australia, soon to Japan and Holland. For more information visit the factory’s’ website at, or go to The Peak (Night Bazaar) where there is a shop selling the factory’s’ products.

By Sophie Rousmaniere

I think I'm going to purchase some of this guys paper and write letters to as many dem pols as I have the paper to...just the thought of what they are holding in their hands...hehehe!


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