Why on Earth would you make paper out of farm feces? Turns out there are a lot of reasons. Typically, with normal paper which comes from trees, the trees are cut and chemicals are added to separate the fibers from the tree trunks. Have you ever driven past a paper processing plant? The whole town stinks. Paper from trees also aids in deforestation.
Poo paper does not include any chemicals. Handmade paper is stronger and more appealing. With poo paper, your fiber source for the paper is a byproduct of your homestead, which can be turned into profit. Another reason to make poo paper is that it is fun and makes great cards, stationery, art, and decorations. Making farm poo paper is not a crappy alternative business idea – it’s a great one!
About 5,000 years ago Egyptians were pounding papyrus together to record text and art. Around 100-200 AD, Mayans in Mexico were making paper in a similar fashion with different fibers as well as many other civilizations around the world. Even though other people were making paper, papyrus is what most people think of as how paper originated. The word “paper” is derived from “papyrus.”
To make farm poo paper, extract any type of plant fibers from the poop, make a pulp out of those fibers and once you have the pulp, you can make paper.
Elephant Poo Paper
Just like it is important to choose the best chickens for eggs if you are going to start an egg business, you will need to choose an experienced fiber producer to start making and selling a handmade paper. Turns out elephants are excellent choices. For those homesteads that do not have elephants, Michael Flancman owner of Alternative Pulp & Paper Co., Ltd. which specializes in poo paper, says there are quite a few other choices. On his website, poopoopaper.com, he sells paper products from animals ranging from pandas, elephants, and moose to more common farm animals like water buffalo, donkeys, horses, and cows.
When choosing your alternative fiber-producing paper maker, there are two things to look for when you choose. The first is that it must be an herbivore that eats a highly fibrous diet. If your livestock is fed a lot of grain and pelleted foods, the papermaking is not going to work. Animals should be free range and eating a lot of grass or hay material. Secondly, the animal should have a somewhat inefficient digestive system that doesn’t completely digest and break down all the fibers. You are looking for shredded, but mostly intact plant fibers. Sheep and goats would not be good choices for papermaking.
After you collect a few piles of excrement, you can start the cleaning process by placing them in 50-gallon metal rain barrels. These vats filled with water allow the foreign material, like pebbles and dirt, to drop to the bottom. The fibers will stay on the top.
Your customers and you will want clean, odorless paper. To continue the cleaning process, remove the floating fibers and boil them for four to six hours. Flancman says there are two reasons why the fibers need to be boiled. The first is to make the material supple and turn it into a cellulose state. The second is to get rid of any bacteria. It is poo after all!
The mixture should be at a full boil (212 degrees) for the entire time. This allows the cells of bacteria to be destroyed. You know the mixture is ready for the next step when it results in an oatmeal-like slurry. The longer the mixture is cooked, the smoother the product will be. This cleaning process does not use any chemicals like chlorine or bleach. It is only water. Therefore, after you are done with your first batch, you can make other batches or use the manure-tea liquid to fertilize the area’s vegetation. After the boiling, strain the fiber.
To make a strong, well-bonded paper, you will need to add additional plant fiber. Flancman suggests adding coconut husks, hay, and banana stalk fibers. Corn stalks, pineapple husks, mulberry bark, and other local seasonally available plant material will work too. Blend these pieces with the poo paper. If you would like to dye the paper, now is the time. Use non-toxic food coloring during the blending process.
Flancman’s company then takes the pulp from mixing and blending machines and forms poo balls. The spheres are similar in size and weight. After years of practice, they know just how much fiber they need for their standard sheet size which is 80 x 55 centimeters.
If you have made paper before, the following steps will be familiar. You will need a mold to screen the fibers to form the paper. The mold can be made inexpensively by using a picture frame, hardware cloth, and a screen from an old screen door. Papermaking molds can be found easily at craft stores and online for between $25 and $40. Prices vary by size and quality. This process of screening paper has been around since 105 AD with the innovation of papermaking in China.
Place the mold in a large basin or sink filled with water. “Spread fibers evenly, being careful the fibers do not go beyond the screen frame. Once you have full coverage with no holes, a lot of water will go back into the sink,” Flancman explains. Once the fibers are laid evenly, gently lift the mold and place at a low angle out in the sun. After three to four hours, you can dry the paper at a sharper angle to fully dry. Drying time depends on paper thickness and weather.
“Once it is dry, grab a corner of the sheet and it will come off just like a band-aid,” Flancman says. Large sheets can be cut to form various products for your customers.
Like setting honey prices, there are a few variables to consider when setting poo paper prices. You’ll need to set the price high enough for your time and financial investments (handmade mold and dung collection). Normally when setting prices, you compare your product with the competitors. However, in this case, not a lot of people are creating this type of product. Setting prices also has to do with perceived value. Flancman’s website says poo paper is eco-friendly, creative and is a novel alternative to tree-pulp products which rely on the harvesting of forests.
If creating paper from animal feces isn’t your thing, you can always try skipping the animal digestion step and go straight to the source. Bast fiber from banana trunks, paper mulberry, milkweed, leaves from iris, lilies, and cattails, and various grasses are ideal for plant papermaking. With scissors, cut the fibers into one to two-inch pieces. Soak the fibers overnight and then boil, uncovered, outdoors until the fibers break apart easily. During the boiling process, you will need to add 3.5 ounces of washing soda, lye, or soda ash per pound of dry product to help remove impurities and to turn the leaves into a cellulose state — you don’t have the gut of an animal helping you anymore.
Once the fibers are supple, remove from the boiling water and rinse. Beat the fibers with a mallet, hand-blend them, or place them in a non-food blender. This is only to cut the fibers, not to macerate. Once appropriately beaten, you can screen the fibers in a mold and dry like poo paper.
If you make plant or poo paper, please share your story! We would love to see your final products. Making your own scratch paper, that isn’t scratch and sniff — is fun, eco-friendly and will sure make for an interesting story.