Maximus in Sri Lanka saw both the need for employment in rural areas and for the conservation of the endangered Sri Lankan elephant.
Maximus Elephant Dung Paper started in 1997 with the intention to marry the interests of job creation, wildlife protection, elephant conservation and rural empowerment through the production of beautiful stationery handmade from 100%waste material.Initially employing just 7 people, this Fair Trade and sustainable company now employs more than 200 people.
The production of the paper brings the elephant into the economy of the village while providing full time sustainable employment in rural areas where there is conflict between the wild elephants and farmers. This employment further reduces the need to clear more land for subsistence farming in these important elephant migration corridors. Maximus is trying to change the perception of rural Sri Lankans so that they come to value the elephants an economic asset rather than as a agricultural pest.
Maximus won the BBC World Challenge, a global competition for small businesses that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grass roots level. It has also won the Green America Green Leadership Award for its efforts to build a more socially just and ecologically sustainable economy.
Production of the elephant dung paper also contributes to the Millennium Elephant Foundation which provides a sanctuary for aged elephants and respite care and medical services for working and temple elephants.
Paper from elephant dung?
Well it’s not as crazy as it seems. Elephants are vegetarians, spending 17 – 19 hours a day feeding. An adult elephant eats up to 180kg of plant fibre every day and goes to the toilet 16 times a day producing about 100kg of dung. This dung is rich in cellulose and is ideal for making paper using traditional handmade paper making methods. In fact you could call the elephant the world’s largest living pulp mill.
So how is the paper made?
Using natural resources – First the dung is sun dried and then sterilized by boiling it at 120 degrees in a sealed high-pressure boiler.
The pulp is then mixed to break up the fibers. Recycled office waste is then added for consistency, before being spread on to submerged screens to create sheets of paper. No bleaches or acids are used in the production of the paper with salt dyes used to create the beautiful colours.
The whole process is sustainable. Bore water that is used in production is then put through a filtration system so that can be reused.
Nothing is wasted. Even the small pieces of pulp paper that drop to the bottom of the tank are used to create the cut-outs which decorate our finished products.
This process takes 13 days to complete, leaving a soft, naturally textured paper. And in case you are wondering…No, it does not smell!
So here’s to the elephant an amazing tree free paper making machine, providing a clean, green, sustainable industry in rural Sri Lanka.