GROWN-UP ELEPHANTS CAN EAT MORE than 300 pounds of food—mostly grass, twigs, foliage, and tree bark—in a single day. In the same period, they may defecate 16 to 18 times, producing over 200 pounds of dung. In Randeniya, a small village in the lower wetlands of Sri Lanka, elephant poop is a renewable resource. The sun-dried, deep-brown dung piles up like haystacks in a painting by Claude Monet.
Visitors could be forgiven for thinking that the poop is useless. But at Eco Maximus, a manufacturer in Randeniya, it takes on a second life. More than 20 years ago, a man named Thusita Ranasinghe saw some dung and had an idea. “He thought he could make paper from it,” says the company’s brand designer, Susantha Karunarathne, with a smile. At his office inside the company factory, Karunarathne wears a green t-shirt which says #elephantdungpaper and shows off some of his recent journal designs.
On a table nearby, several women carefully design covers for multi-sized notebooks. On another, the finished product is packed and ready to be shipped. Today, Maximus creates a range of stationery and souvenirs, which are sold in the local market and in 30 other countries around the globe.
In one corner of the factory, bundles of paper with crumpled edges are stacked upon each other. There are different colours—earthy tones, blues, tropical greens, and deep reds. Thousands of years ago, much of the writing in Sri Lanka was inscribed on stones. Later, the islanders wrote on leaves, such as the fronds of the palmyra palm, locally known as the tal. “Palmyrah leaves were boiled and sun-dried for writing, which was called pus kola (old leaves),” says bright-eyed Randika Jayasinghe, who teaches biosystems technology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.