Gung Ho about Dung!

If you ever came across an elephant that defecated right in front of you, chances are that you would screw up your nose and move aside very quickly. Mahima Mehra did not, and that is how Haathi Chaap happened – a brand that makes products out of elephant feces. From notebooks, diaries to cards, coasters, albums to even Saanp Seedhi and Pithhoo, they have an eclectic mix of products which are both quirky and fun. The ubiquitous elephant back runs like a motif on most items.

The idea struck when she was trudging her way up a hilltop. Most people were riding atop elephants to get there. Amidst elephant backs and poop all around, it was quite a task to go on. It was then that she chanced upon dry elephant dung (caught underfoot), which resembled the raw fibre from which handmade paper is made. After several experiments, which she confesses were quite ‘disgusting’, she and her paper producer had usable paper made of dung. And it did not even stink!

Her parent company had been using handmade paper for packaging organic food, when they decided to diversify into elephant dung paper and assorted knick knacks. In the initial years, these products were exported to Germany and the United Kingdom and it was only last year that they began retailing in India. Mahima explains, “Handmade paper was considered more of an art form or a special item than a mass based product but that perception is now changing.” The concept definitely has caught on and sales have registered a steady growth in the past year. Explaining their work model she says, “We do collaborative manufacturing, which entails tying up with a small producer and buying from him for the whole year. This ensures that he can get more people to work for him or get equipment. It also means that we can only supply as much as he can give us.”

Definitely a first of its kind for India, the concept has been prevalent in countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand. In Thailand the paper making company is based in the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. The paper provides the necessary money needed for feeding and looking after the elephants. They call it the circle of conservation – elephants helping elephants.

These stories are not only about innovation and resourcefulness but also about simple ideas which go a long way in making a difference to the environment. Animal dung has traditionally been used in the form of manure as fertilizers in agriculture. However elephant dung has never been known for being used as manure and hence it is simply a waste product only adding to the problem of waste disposal. This paper is supposed to be one of the most ecologically safe papers right from its make to its use. So next time you’re using that fancy handmade paper diary it might just have been made out of a whole lot of poop!

– Niha Masih


~ by Niha on November 6, 2009.

4 Responses to “Gung Ho about Dung!”

  1. Good find Niha – I didn’t know that there could be other uses of animal dung, besides manure.

  2. ok – you can delete the first one – clicked okay before i finished writing 😉

  3. Beautiful concept, well written, and interesting use of wit. And ah! d title, a real teaser. But if you could tell your reader whereabouts of the story, it could have been a bit more informative. Well, but, it was a reading full of wit and subtle humour.

  4. i hav used haathi chaap diaries but never realized dat someone could actually do a story on this…mast choice 4 a story…

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