Call it a stroke of Camel Karma if you will. But the humpbacks in Rajasthan are getting a boost from unexpected quarters on the road to survival: stationery made of poop.
German veterinarian Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, a member of the NGO Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS), based in Sadri, Rajasthan, first thought of launching a factory for stationery made of camel excrement in 2011. “It was the logical answer to the demise of Rajasthan’s camel economy. The 2012 livestock census put the number of camels in the state at 3.2 lakh. Since the camel has lost its erstwhile utility as a work animal, we need to think of new rationales for its existence. If the camel doesn’t generate income, who’ll keep it?” asks Köhler-Rollefson. “Nobody, except zoos,” she surmises.
The LPPS works closely with the Raikas, a community of camel herders, to make paper made of animal poop. Still scrunching up your nose about the idea? Let’s quell your curiosity about the manufacturing process. To begin with, the dung is bought from women traders of the Raika community and pulverised with a stick. Then it is boiled to kill all possible germs and made sterile. Now the pulp is put into a “beater machine” and mixed with waste cotton.
After a few hours of homogenising, a small amount of pulp is dispersed into a vat and then lifted out on mesh screens, with a cloth on top. This is turned upside down and the sheets are put under a press. “Once all water has drained off, the sheets are hung on washing lines to dry. Finally the sheets are calendared several times (calendaring is a paper-finishing process in which damp paper is passed through heated rollers to give it a glossy finish),” explains Köhler-Rollefson, who came to India for a research project in the early 1990s, fell in love with the Raika animal culture and stayed on.
The waste finally takes the shape of Camel Charisma, a range of environment-friendly diaries, journals, calendars, mobile covers, greeting cards and other stationery items made from camel dung. So popular has the idea become in the state that the Rajasthan University of Veterinary and Animal Science is thinking of printing their graduation certificates on camel poo paper.
An elephantine tale
The credit for popularising paper made of animal waste in the country doesn’t go to the makers of Camel Charisma, though. That has to go to Haathi Chaap founder Mahima Mehra.
The story behind the brain-wave is, well, messy. Mehra, a paper merchant based in Delhi and her Jaipur-based business partner Vijayendra Shekhawat were walking up to a shrine atop the Aamer Fort in 2002. “Since the weather was pleasant, Vijayendra and I decided to walk. But when we reached the foothills, we realised most pilgrims preferred to go up on elephant back. So there we were, two pygmies trudging up, with enormous elephant behinds and swinging tails ahead of us. There was dry elephant dung underfoot, and suddenly, it struck us how similar it looked to the raw fibre from which we made paper,” recalls Mehra.
Once the paper sample was tested, manufacturing stationery items seemed like an obvious next step in the process of working with elephant poo paper.
The procedure isn’t very different from camel poo stationery. Collected from street corners, elephant dung is taken to a paper-making unit and washed thoroughly. Then the poop is pulped with small amounts of cotton till it reaches a fine consistency. Subsequently, the appropriate amount of pulp is put into large vats with water and large wire meshes are dipped in to pull up thin layers of pulp. Once naturally dried, the paper is pressed between rollers to smoothen it and it is ready to be used.
In Rhino country
On a flight to his hometown Guwahati, Mahesh Bora, 72, a former mining engineer, first read about paper made of elephant poop in 2005. It set him thinking. “If a person could make eco-friendly elephant poo paper in Rajasthan with an animal population of just a few hundred elephants, the potential of doing it in the Northeast, home to more than 11,000 elephants, was enormous, thought my father,” says his daughter Nisha Bora.
Mahesh also realised rhino dung had many properties that were similar to elephant dung. This was the genesis of Elrhino, a paper making project, in 2013.
Growing up in Assam, Nisha Bora watched the rhino and the elephant come under threat from man-made circumstances. “Assam is home to more than 85 per cent of the world’s one-horned rhino population, and the largest concentration of Asian elephants. Both are losing their lives to poaching, encroachment and a depleting forest cover. This is something we care about,” she says.
Working with the community of papermakers, the club of stationery manufacturers appears to have its heart at the right place. Haathi Chaap, for instance, is helping papermakers set up an organic farm near Jaipur and involving them in a project that will educate tourists in paper-making. The Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan helps the Raika with veterinary care and fights for the rights of pastoral people across India. “We are a conservation linked paper project,” says Bora of Elrhino.
These paper-makers may appear to be examples of high seriousness, but the business of making paper out of animal poop has its lighter moments. Almost every day, says Mehra, she receives a query she cannot address with a straight face: Does feeding elephants turmeric or beetroot give her yellow or red paper?
Rhinos, elephants and camels are not known for great digestion. For the record, elephants consume 150 kg of plant matter every day. Close to 60 per cent of it is not digested. The clique of poo paper makers can smell profits there: that’s good for the bottom-line too!
Poop is popular
Interesting uses of animal waste
* As far back as 1850BC, Egyptian women are believed to have used crocodile excreta as a spermicide
* Leather makers are known to use pigeon droppings and dog faeces to soften animal hide
* Made in Indonesia, Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee, is extracted from palm-civet droppings
India’s cities are estimated to generate 1,88,500 tonnes of waste every day. Here are unusual ideas from around the world that show how recycled products can emerge from waste.
* An arcade for the Batliwala: Here’s one cool idea from Scandinavia for our assorted bewdas. A bottle bank near Sodra station at Stockholm, Sweden, has been turned into an arcade machine. To play, press the start button, wait for the lights on the top of the machine, and throw bottles into the corresponding space.
* Plastic jewellery: Cameroon’s New Era Foundation trains women to produce jewellery from recycled paper and plastic
* Landfillharmonic: A Paraguayan garbage picker and a musician came together to turn trash into instruments for slum children. Think violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates in Paraguay’s largest landfill. It was the genesis of the world renowned Landfillharmonic Orchestra. Try beating this for innovation!
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From HT Brunch, December 13
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