Friday, August 20, 2004

Papermaker smells money in elephant dung fit for a president !

Papermaker smells money in elephant dung fit for a president

PINNAWELA, Sri Lanka (AFP) -

A group of enterprising Sri Lankans are taking their recycling business to jumbo heights -- by turning elephant dung into paper fit for use even by US President George W. Bush.

Through their company Maximus, named after their chief supplier "elephas maximus", the group's modest paper plant churns through up two tonnes of manure a day. And its appetite shows no signs of abating, with increased demand for pachyderm paper from Japan, Europe and the United States. Maximus paper is 75 percent dung, and the rest is recycled cardboard.

Dung paper is a good conversation piece," said Thusitha Ranasinghe who manages Maximus. "You give someone your business card printed on dung paper and they immediately want to smell it. It is a good ice breaker."

The deodorised paper has no trace of the raw material, although a connoisseur may be able to say what the elephant had for dinner by looking at the paper's fibres.

And Maximus can certainly stake a claim to have provided for some political heavyweights -- none other than President Bush, his wife Laura and US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In July 2002 on a visit to the United States, Sri Lanka's then premier Ranil Wickremesinghe gave President Bush a box of gold-monogrammed dung writing paper, envelopes and name cards.

He elected the more delicate bougainvillea paper stationery Bush's wife Laura.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell received a spicy variety of cinnamon and banana-recycled paper.

But since its inception in 1997, Maximus is going from strength to strength.

Its seven-strong workforce has now mushroomed into 122 employees, mostly from Pinnawela. And they don't have to travel too far to restock with the freshest of supplies.

Pinnawela is home to the world's first elephant orphanage, the state-run facility boasting more than 60 living recycling machines. When they're caught short, Maximus staff simply dash to the orphanage.

Maximus produces two main varieties of paper -- dark and light. The dark comes from an elephant which has eaten a meal of palmyrah branches while a jumbo snacking on coconuts will give lighter paper.

Ranasinghe said 10 kilograms of dung will usually produce 40 to 50 boards or 600 to 660 sheets of A4 paper. There is money in dung. The price for six sheets of A4 paper is about 50 US cents.

Recycling revenues have gone up from 650,000 rupees in 1998 to 19 million (200,000 dollars) last year. "Ninety percent of our production is exported," he said. "We could do more, if we have more paper."

The island's northern and eastern regions, where wild elephant herds are known to roam, could be a gold mine for Ranasinghe, who has sounded out Tamil Tiger rebels who all but control the region.

"This is a very labour intensive process and Tigers can employ a lot of people in this profitable business," Ranasinghe told AFP. "We can have dung-paper produced in Tiger-held areas."

He is printing business cards for Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his senior aides on dung-paper, hoping it could break the ice and make new "paper Tigers".

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