Elrhino: Saving the planet by turning poop into paper

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logo_elrhinoThe forests of Assam are home to exotic species of animals. Elrhino is saving those forests and animals by turning elephant poop into paper.

As a kid, I stayed in a place surrounded by trees. During holidays I used to sit outside and make sketches of the rich flora around, while enjoying the cool breeze and chirping of birds. It was pure bliss!

Today those trees exist only in my sketch book. For construction and other reasons, all of them have been cut. The area is extremely hot and dry with hardly any birds.

That was in the heart of a city and the number of trees in question was around 20. What if the same thing happens to the forests of India, which we so proudly flaunt in our tourist brochures? What will happen to our symbolic Asian elephants, one-horned rhinos, Asiatic lions and Royal Bengal tigers?

Thankfully, this situation isn’t going to confront us in the near future or at least till initiatives like Elrhino keep coming up.

Elrhino makes handmade paper from elephant and rhino dung and other recyclable waste including cotton rags. It is the brainchild of Mahesh Bora, a retired mining engineer from Assam, where Elrhino’s factory was set up in December 2011. It began operations by April 2012.

How Elrhino is protecting the forests and its elephants

The three paper mills of Assam require 2,600 tonnes of bamboo per day, which is harvested from the forests near Kaziranga and the Karbi-Anglong hills. This results in a scarcity of fodder for elephants, causing them to raid crops in areas under human habitation. Using dung to manufacture paper reduces the need for mill-made paper, leaving more fodder for elephants.

Villagers are often paid by poachers to assist them while hunting. Elrhino provides its workers, most of whom hail from the surrounding tribal areas, with an alternate livelihood, encouraging them to see elephants and rhinos as assets rather than liabilities.

How  paper is made from elephant dung

The paper-making process begins with the collection of elephant dung from the owners of domestic elephants and rhino dung from the agricultural land that they stray into in search of food. The dung is washed in water, boiled and disinfected leaving only the cellulose behind. It is then dried thoroughly in the sun and stored someplace dry.

10 kilograms of elephant dung and four kilograms of rhino dung yield about one kilogram of dry fibre each. The raw material—including cotton rags sourced from tailors and scrap dealers that are chopped into tiny bits—is mixed with water and non-toxic chemicals and beaten to a pulp in a Hollander beater.

Next, the pulp is transferred to a trough into which a mesh with a wooden frame is dipped, lifting pulp out with it to form a sheet of paper. This sheet is then put onto cloth such as muslin or felt, and a hydraulic press is used to remove the moisture. Drying the sheets in the sun eliminates any remaining moisture, thus creating a clean sheet of paper.

Products of Elrhino paper:

elrhnoElrhino focuses on showcasing the heritage of northeast India through its products that include paper embedded in Assamese silk, fossil paper, office stationery, cards, gift bags, lampshades, and wall hangings.

For now, Elrhino products can be purchased from shopo.in although there are plans to introduce them in stores in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, and Chennai.

We have to face the fact that without trees there will be no animals, temperatures will rise further and we will choke in our own carbon-dioxide. We need to save trees. We care, do you?

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