It is waste management on a jumbo scale. Elephant dung which otherwise would have gone waste gets transformed into paper of various hues at Athulya, a unit imparting job skills to differently abled students hailing from estate lanes.
Paper bags, envelopes, writing pads, and covers made of dung fibre paper stand testimony to the skill set of students.
The unit makes 500 to 1,000 paper sheets a month depending on the availability of the raw material. Though the price of the paper is bit high, it has many takers. Visitors to Munnar, especially foreigners, purchase them.
There is no compromise on the quality of the paper. Colour sheets are made adding the respective dye. “The differently abled students were given training by foreign tutors,” an official at Athulya said. Athulya is a unit under DARE (Developmental Activities in Rehabilitative Education) project.
“Workers collect elephant dung from forests or tea plantations. The dung is cleaned, disinfected, and processed to make the fibre raw material,” said the official.
Thailand is said to have pioneered the art of making paper from elephant dung. However, paper was made from elephant dung in Jaipur in Rajasthan and exported to Germany under the brand Haathi Chaap, meaning ‘elephant imprint.’
No sophisticated process or machinery is involved in the process. Once the dung is dried and disinfected, only the clean fibre remains. This fibre is sorted to remove non-dung fibre that might have stuck to the dung collected from the forests.
The fibre is boiled to soften it. The manufacturing process is similar to that of handmade paper. The boiled pulp is put through pulp beaters. Colours or dyes are added as per requirement. The material is then evened to make the final product.
The eco-friendly process of making the paper from natural ingredients makes the difference here. Athulya is a project under the Srishti Welfare Centre in Munnar.