Save Trees, Buy Elephant Poo

Jason Davis | Photography Intern

What do you think about when you hear the word “poo”? If you’re Mike Flancman and his wife, Tun, you see an eco-friendly way to both make money and help save endangered elephants. For him, when life hands him elephant poo, he literally makes paper.

Flancman is the founder of the Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Company, a business that specializes in turning elephant waste into paper, which is then transformed into over 150 other products like notebooks, wrapping paper, greeting cards and even Christmas ornaments.

The idea of using elephant dung to create paper came from a Thai villager. Flancman, who divides his time between Toronto, Canada and Chiang Mai, Thailand, said in a Forbes interview that he liked the idea of “taking something, seemingly the most undesirable item, and turning it into something functional.”

Elephants eat anywhere from 300 to 600 pounds of food a day, and 60 percent of that leaves the animal’s body undigested. Plus, since the gentle giant thrives on a fibrous diet, its poo is full of medium-grain fibers. This is an ideal raw material for making paper which is also organic and free from dangerous parasites. The mammal produces approximately 220 pounds of dung every day. One single piece of elephant poo can create about 10 standard-sized journals, making it extremely efficient. Putting this all together means that elephant dung is the perfect go-to natural resource to give a whole new meaning to the term recycled paper.

The self-proclaimed “number one at number two” company uses an age-old tradition, which it updated to make its products more ecologically responsible, affordable and sanitary. It collects the dung from elephant conservation parks only after they are naturally dried out to ensure that there will be no stinky smell later.

Jason Davis | Photography Intern

Back at their factory, they rinse the dried poo with water, which leaves just the fibrous materials from the undigested grasses, bamboo and fruit. Boiling this pulp mixture for three to four hours disinfects it and gives it the desired consistency. After, they can add more natural fibers from banana trees and pineapples to make the paper stronger and to help hold everything together. They also include food coloring to make the paper seem more like real paper and a little less like poop. This batch of blended fibers, which has a pancake batter-like consistency, is then spread out on mesh trays and left to dry in the sun. Once dry, the sheet of paper is peeled off the tray, processed through metal rollers for its preferred grade, and transformed into any of its pachyderm products by Great Elephant artisan crafters.

The end product is thick and textured, but occasionally flecked with small stones and hair-like fibers that were once the elephant’s undigested food. This imperfection, however, is what Flancman attributes to its selling point since it adds authenticity. Their unique items are sold on their online “Poo-tique” shop, but apparently people really do enjoy seeing their work on speckled paper. More stores, including big retailers like Target and Amazon, are reaching out to their eco-conscious consumers and are eagerly embracing this product. Perhaps one of the best parts of this “poo revolution” though, is that Flancman’s company gives a portion of its profits to elephant welfare and conservation programs. Who knew that we could help save the elephants while we print term papers?

Believe it or not, we live in a world that does not tolerate a monopoly to a company that sells paper made out of animal waste. Flancman’s company is in close competition with Thailand’s Elephant Dung Paper and Sri Lanka’s Maximus. Of course, when faced with competition, each company thinks bigger and better. The Great Elephant is trying to expand their inventory to meet the demands of businessmen, as well as experimenting with adding aromas to its poo papers, including cinnamon, lemon and coffee scents. Flancman is also turning his attention to testing paper made of various fruits, vegetables and dung from other animals.

Jason Davis | Photography Intern

Researchers in China are following right behind, taking poop from its country’s giant pandas and treating it under a similar process. They believe that panda poop might prove to be even better than those from an elephant because their staple food is fiber-heavy bamboo, with 80 percent of their food remaining undigested.

It is now thought that the poo from any herbivorous animal in existence can be used to help save trees and make even more things, like air fresheners (ironic, huh?) and heavy-duty bricks.

Cows and sheep are the latest animals to be included in this new environmentally friendly animal group. So the next time you hear the word “poo,” it’s time to think odorless recycled paper.