If asked “What is paper made of?”, the first answer would most likely be “trees”. So many environmental campaigns tell us to recycle and use paper wisely if we want to save more trees on our planet. Fair enough. Let’s see what Uncle Google answers to our question. “Over the centuries, paper has been made from a wide variety of materials — wood pulp, rice, water plants, cotton, even old clothes! But no matter what you use to make paper — you need “fiber.” Today’s paper fiber comes mainly from two sources — pulpwood logs and recycled paper products”. Very well. Now, what would you call me if I tell you that paper could be made from poo? Herbivore’s dung is rich in fiber, so why not? And what is the biggest herbivore on earth? That’s right, an elephant. Paper can be made from elephant’s dung. Isn’t it an amazingly eco-friendly way to produce paper?!
This post will be dedicated to a really inspiring story of a simple Indian man who now runs a small elephant poo paper factory in Jaipur.
Vijendra Shekhavat has been into paper production business for more than 15 years. He started working at a silk fiber paper factory but it was very difficult for a small producer to compete with well-established big companies. The basic need to earn enough money to support his family was a major motivating force for him. And on one fine day walking down the Amer Road near Jaipur, where a lot of elephants take tourists for a ride up to the Amber Palace, Vijendra saw that elephant poo had so much fiber. That’s when the idea struck him! Excited, he got back home and shared it with his family. Their response was, “Are you insane? No way! That’s so disgraceful to deal with poo…” Here I should make a little remark: In India there used to be a special caste of people to clean poo- the Dalits, or the untouchables. Thus, from the Indian perspective it is totally unacceptable for a man to build a business on processing dung. But Vijendra’s deep determination and ultimate belief in himself made the trick. He started with collecting elephant dung from a road in plastic bags and carrying it by scooter to his small factory. Then there were 6 anxious months of waiting to get the paper quality results from a bigger supplier in Delhi. During that time Vijendra’s fiancée almost broke up with him upon finding out that he was making paper from elephant poo.
Fortunately, all these facts are a part of a successful story today. Vijendra’s small elephant poo factory is up and running. They organize tours and workshops for the school communities and tourists to spread the word about their unique eco-friendly business in Jaipur. They are trying to create work places for the largely unemployed local villages’ population.
After the tour, we were offered to purchase some really cool elephant poo products. Meanwhile, I could not help but admire deeply Vijendra’s determination and his sincere excitement with what he has managed to achieve so far. When his family members left the room, he told us that now we can choose any of the products as gifts. I thought it was really sweet of him. Once again I found myself thinking, “This man is not a shrewd business at heart. He simply believed without any trace of doubt in what he wanted to achieve. So inspiring! When one sets their mind to do something, they have to believe in it wholeheartedly. Then things work out the right way.
I surely hope that Vijendra’s factory will grow and investors will find their way to support him. India’s eco-friendly market has just started emerging, and it is quite promising to see Vijendra Shekhavat as one of its pioneers.