Elrhino makes paper from poo!

As the world becomes more aware of the needs of sustainable development and the importance of environmentally-friendly practices, people are not shying away from trying out new ideas. Take for example, Elrhino, a company which is manufacturing paper from animal waste. The company uses the expertise of people living near the natural habitat of elephants and rhinoceros in Assam to manufacture the environmentally-friendly paper. The indigenous people roam around forests to collect elephant and rhinoceros dung along with other raw materials like grass, leaves and natural fibre.

Elrhino Paper
Elrhino Paper, Image credit: Elrhino

The company was established by Nisha Bora and her father Mahesh, a retired mining engineer. In an interview to a news website, Nisha said that they conceived the idea Elrhino by accident. Mahesh had read about farmers in Rajasthan manufacturing paper from elephant waste. What struck him was that if farmers in Rajasthan—where elephants were scarce— could manufacture paper from animal waste, then the model could also be implemented in Assam, which was home to many elephants. Mahesh visited the farmers in Rajasthan to learn the process and months later he set up a unit with a small workforce to manufacture paper using elephant and rhinoceros dung. Two years later, Nisha left her corporate job as a qualitative researcher to join her father, who is also an environmental activist, at Elrhino.

The company also contributes in bringing down deforestation and save energy by combing dung, natural resources, and forest products to make paper. The raw materials used by the company range from hyacinths, local ahimsa silk, pineapple bark, ferns, betel nuts and tea leaves. When compared to a process of manufacturing paper using virgin wood, Elrhino’s process consumes 44% less energy, 41% less particulate emissions, 50% less waste, 100% less wood, and 38% lesser greenhouse gases. The company also aims to preserve the endangered animals and provide employment opportunities to indigenous locals. With the product line, the firm tries to balance the needs of the environment and the well being of the endangered animals with those of the locals, thereby reducing human-animal conflicts.

The process of manufacturing paper from animal waste comprises many steps. In the first step, Elrhino prepares raw material by using cotton hosiery rags cut into several pieces of 1 cm. The next step is to sanitize animal waste collected by the locals. The waste is cleaned of unnecessary waste and fecal matter. The waste is sterilized using high-pressure water, sans chemicals.  Following the sanitization of the dung, the employees boil natural fiber like the bark of trees in caustic soda for over four hours. The strength of the fiber is responsible for the strength of the paper, which is why Elrhino uses raw materials like pineapple bark. The fiber is dried and banana plants, cut into small pieces, are also dried after being dried in caustic soda. In one go, the process yields around 350kg of treated animal waste and 80kg of fiber.

The second stage is called pulping, wherein the first step is to pulp the dried fiber and cotton hosiery bags in a Hollander Beater. In the process, the employees also add prepared dung and water.

The third and final step is referred to as a paper process. At this stage, the paper sheets are formed using molds and are then lifted manually with a fixed deckle and a mesh net. The stack of sheets is then dried in a hydraulic press and the water squeezed out. The sheets are then finally hung out in the sun to dry and calendared and cut into appropriate sizes. What you get in the end are sheets of Ph-neutral, odor-free, artisanal and waste-free paper.

The paper manufactured by Elrhino is completely blot-free and can be used for almost anything. Moreover, one can even order paper sheets in different colors.

Coming to the employees, most of them are indigenous people sharing their homes with the rhinoceros and elephants found in the hinterland of Assam and have limited access to the cash economy. A small number of them own agricultural land, on which they grow some crops. However, these lands are only useful for some months because they are washed away by the annual floods- which wreak havoc in Assam every year. The workforce comprises 15 full-time employees and augments the income of more than 75 individuals in the area. One can easily buy Elrhino products from their official website and their range notebooks, playing cards, shopping bags and table lamps. Elrhino is also contributing to a charitable cause as that it gives away 5% of the proceeds from every item sold to an NGO involved in the conservation of the environment.

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