Ever since we are born we have known one thing – that paper is made out of trees and we should not waste it so as to save our trees. But While the Chinese are credited with making paper from trees, Indians will soon be credited for making paper from elephant dung. Since 1995, 42-year-old Mahima Mehra was producing handmade paper from cotton rags. But, on a trip to Jaipur, she discovered how similar dry elephant dung looked to the raw fibre from which paper is made. After much experimentation, she eventually came up with usable sheets of paper made of elephant dung, christened Haathi Chaap, meaning Prints of the Elephant.
“I’ve always been interested in recycling, and I wanted to create something which was commercially viable. Haathi Chaap came about in 2003. Once a papermaker, always a papermaker,” says Mehra, founder, Haathi Chaap.
Her method is simple. The dung is washed thoroughly in large water tanks until only the fibre is left behind, and cooked for about four to five hours with salt. It is then washed with hydrogen peroxide to make the paper bacteria-free. The dung is left to dry, followed by converting it into a pulp which is then placed in water-filled cement or wooden vats. Depending on the weight of the paper to be made, the required amount of pulp is mixed with water. To make sheets of paper, each layer of pulp is lifted out from the water using a flat sieve-like mould.
Mehra is not just producing paper, but has also created an assortment of handmade material including bags, frames, photo albums, notebooks, stationery, cards, tags and several other knick-knacks. Her products are available across the country and abroad. “We want to work with as many different raw materials as possible to make environmentally safe paper, and to try make them affordable which is our biggest challenge,” she says.