The previous post explored Mr. Ellie Pooh, a company in Sri Lanka that produces sustainable paper from elephant dung.
In this post, Michael Flancman, Co-Founder and CEO of Alternative Enterprises Co., Ltd. in Thailand, generously responded by email to my questions. He discusses the origins of his fascinating company–one that also produces paper products from elephant dung (amongst other animals, including giant tortoise dung!)–about the importance of sustainability and conservation, and about the plight of elephants in other places in the world.
For further details on how this type of paper is produced, please visit their website: http://new.poopoopaper.com/index.php/about-us/the-process-from-poop-to-paper!
1. How did POOPOOPAPER get started and how long have you been involved with the company? (Who is the other co-founder?)
I started the company with my wife in 2004. She’s from Chiang Mai, Thailand where we are located. I’m from Canada.
We started to fiddle with the concept of making non-tree, non-wood pulp based papers in 2002 though but it took us a few years to develop a viable material/ product. We had been working with handicrafts in SE Asia for a number of years prior and we had a fair bit of experience working with all sorts of crafted goods…from silk to ceramics, wood, candles, metals, paper etc.
In 2004, we decided we wanted to focus. We wanted to focus on products that had some integrity from a sustainability stand-point. This area has a long tradition with papermaking with mulberry bark and the local skill helped us as we set out to develop a range of many different types of non-tree, alternative fiber papers.
[[Image courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
Our first was paper made from elephant dung. Dung is abundant in Northern Thailand with about 5,000 elephants in the region. In some areas disposal is a bit of a problem.
[[Image courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
2. What made you choose to move from solely elephant dung to other types?
There was interest and demand and it seemed to be a natural progression. We developed our Cow and Horse POOPOOPAPER at the request of customers and other interested people we’ve met who were interested in our chemical-free process and curious about the use of different raw fiber materials to produce non-wood, tree-free pulp and paper.
This is also what led us to developing our other bleach-free, chlorine-free alternative fiber based papers such as coconut fiber, banana stalk, corn and pineapple husk fiber, bamboo fibers, etc.
[[Image of fibers in the process of boiling to produce clean pulp, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
We felt the process was similar (recipe and pulp mixture slightly different) and making a marketable product was achievable. We had access to a significant and consistent supply of a variety of different waste fiber materials due to the widespread agriculture/ farming activity that is prevalent in the area. FYI, our legal company name is Alternative Pulp & Paper Co., Ltd which reflects our interest and focus on alternative paper options.
[[Image of clean and dry elephant dung, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
3. How is the dung collected? (Zoos? Farms?)
Our elephant dung is collected via a network of mahouts and conservation camps that we’ve cobbled together over the years. There are also numerous poop dumps in a handful of districts where there are literally mounds of poo that’s been collected and discarded. Disposal is a problem in some villages. There are close to 5000 elephants in Northern Thailand. We send the pick-up trucks to collect dung on an as need basis. Sometimes we pay and other times we exchange for bananas, sugar cane or other edible vegetation which can be fed to the elephants.
[[Image of “poo pulp balls”, clean fiber from dung mixed with other non-wood fibers and formed into balls to make paper, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
[[Image of paper screens drying in the sun, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
[[Image of sheets of elephant dung paper, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
4. As I have mentioned, my interest in connecting with you was related to elephants and their conservation. Has your company made any impacts on elephant (or other animal) conservation in Thailand?
We like to think we’re making a modest, positive contribution in a variety of areas. We try to do what we can to contribute and support a few different causes that are dear to my wife and I. We certainly hope the contributions we make are somewhat impactful. Here are a few of the numerous projects we’ve been involved in to varying degrees:
Specifically related to elephants in Thailand:
1. 2008 – we partially funded the construction of an elephant shelter at the Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng, Thailand which is operated by well known elephant conservationist Lek Chailert. The shelter had a capacity for two full-grown elephants and protected them for the elements. ENP rescues elephants and provides a sanctuary where they can roam freely within their 500-acre river valley location.
2. 2011 – we supported Project Elephant Footprint in Botswana. This is largely a research initiative established to study the migratory habits of the elephants there in order to better understand the nature of elephant/human conflicts in this part of Africa. This support was in tandem with the San Diego Zoo Global organization.
1. We currently support Elephant Parade and their Asian Elephant Foundation with preferential pricing to help them maximize contributions to the AEF.
2. Since 2008, we have contributed in-kind over $5,000 to various zoo-related non-profit entities.
3. Raised money to purchase and install a research camera to monitor the elusive snow leopard in the Malaysian rainforest. The snow leopard is threatened and the cameras help scientists better understand the number of leopards in a given area and their habits – data which helps them formulate recommendation for species survival.
4. Cash donations to CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society).
5. Cash donations to National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
6. In-kind donation to support the filming of ‘For The Love of Elephants‘ which is a documentary that sheds light on the plight of tortured/ abused elephants in India.
7. In-kind donation to Akash Patel’s ‘Elephants in the Classroom’ educational initiative. The 60 minute inter-disciplinary interactive standards-based (Pre K-6) SMART board lesson on elephants aims to raise awareness amongst young students in Oklahoma about elephants and sea turtles and other threatened animals. This is a recent project which expect to support on an on-going basis. Mr. Patel, a native of Nepal, uses our products to raise funds to help subsidize his free lecture series to thousands of young students every month.
8. Currently in-kind donation to support fundraising efforts for giant tortoise research in Alhambra Atoll in the Seychelles. We will be making pulp and paper from giant tortoise dung which we will in turn make products from for this initiative.
We also make countless donations to school groups, artists and various other individuals and groups that have a conservation/ recycling angle.
[[Image of interactive demonstration, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
5. Do your employees ever create the artistic designs themselves?
Absolutely, that’s where many of our designs originate…especially the designs that have local or indigenous patterns as well those designs we sell in the Asia region and certainly within Thailand.
[[Images of elephant dung paper products, courtesy of POOPOOPAPER]]
For Europe or North America we do tend to work with designers/ artists who are familiar with consumers and design preferences in those markets. One thing is for certain: there is always a local staff here involved in some stage of the process for every single item we craft. In fact, if you visit our Elephant POOPOOPAPER Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand you can see first-hand the local artisans crafting all sorts of design concepts every day.
6. Are there any questions I haven’t asked that you think people should know?
I want to share the following:
The primary perspective that our enterprise comes from today is from the perspective of producing an eco-friendly and alternative paper to typical, wood-pulp based papers which require widespread cutting of trees and a production process that pollutes the natural environment. We’re able to use our alternative paper products as a medium to convey the importance of sustainability and conservation….and not just for elephants although they are dear to our hearts since there are thousands in our part of the country. So, coming from the paper perspective, we see no difference between elephant, cow, horse, donkey, coconut, pineapple, corn husk fibers etc. In all cases we collect waste fiber material and process it into rolls or sheets of paper of various weights and regardless of waste fiber material we’re able to be a test case for the successful utilization of alternative fibrous materials to make paper, packaging, labels, stationery etc. using a chemical-free process free of bleach and chlorine.
I also think it’s important that your readers understand that elephants in different countries face somewhat different challenges and to varying degrees. In Botswana and many other countries they are faced with conflicts with human activities and encroachment on their traditional, natural, wild, habitats. In Cambodia or Vietnam, the elephant has virtually been wiped out and it’s more about rebuilding a population, albeit most likely captive. In Thailand, the focus is on keeping elephants and their mahouts away from unnatural, urban environments where they often come to ‘beg’ and perform tricks for tourists (which is arguably a form of abuse), and then, improving the quality of care for the elephant population, which is entirely captive, since it’s been decades since there was a wild population.
Find out more about Poo Poo Paper and Alternative Pulp & Paper Co., Ltd: http://new.poopoopaper.com/
You can see more fabulous pictures about their work here: http://new.poopoopaper.com/index.php/about-us/10-history/44-gallery
You can buy their products online here: http://store.poopoopaper.com/
If you are in NH, the Seacoast Science Center carries a few of their products in their store: http://www.seacoastsciencecenter.org/
For more information on the documentary “For the Love of Elephants”, please visit their website: http://fortheloveofelephants.net/
For more information on Elephant Parade: http://www.elephantparade.com/
For more information on the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/
If you haven’t already seen this beautiful video of Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, mentioned above, I highly recommend it (http://saveelephantfoundation.org/):
An Elephas-maximus sized THANK YOU to Michael Flancman for his generous responses to my many questions and the wonderful images provided for this post!!