Paper has been around for nigh on a millennium. Its first recorded incarnation, by Ts’ai Lun in 105 AD, was created using a mix of hemp, mulberry bark and water sieved through rags. Today, people continue to develop their own homemade pulp by shredding recycled paper and blending it with flowers, leaves and water, and now manufacturers are making paper out of materials as unexpected as elephant dung.
Commercial paper, however, is traditionally made out of wood fibre. To make just one tonne of 100 per cent virgin wood pulp, a shocking 20 trees are chopped down and 73 000 litres of water are used. Relatively recent accreditations from the FSC have improved the efficiency of wood pulp. Post-consumer waste – otherwise known as recycled pulp – has also helped reduce paper’s environmental impact, though it cannot be recycled an infinite number of times, so virgin fibres will always be needed.
Sustainable paper manufacturer Arjowiggins Graphic has reported an unprecedented 140 per cent rise in demand for recycled paper in the past couple of years. It sister company, Arjowiggins Creative Papers, has recently launched its first sustainable paper offering, made out of bamboo. This high-quality paper is actually only 50 per cent bamboo, because since the fibres are long and difficult to refine they must be combined with FSC-certified pulp.
’The Conqueror Bamboo paper range has been created so designers can respond to different briefs without compromising on quality,’ says Jonathan Mitchell, business director of fine papers at Arjowiggins Creative Papers. ’It is a paper that offers colour and performance, andit is an innovation in recycled luxury paper.’
Other exotic papers such as elephant poo, rhino poo, straw and grass paper are also receiving more attention. UK-based paper manufacturer The Exotic Paper Company specialises in creating bespoke alternative papers, harvesting dung from an elephant foundation in Sri Lanka, drying it out and cleaning it using heat.
Only 10 per cent of the dung fibre is used, being mixed with PCW to create the odour-free paper. Elephant dung paper’s largest application is in speciality products such as notebooks, invitations and brochures.
Elephant dung may have an environmental appeal, but is not strong enough to make a bag or be used for packaging
Jacqueline Redman, James Cropper
Sophie Thomas of sustainable design group Thomas Matthews sees elephant dung paper as ’a bit of a hairy jumper’. She explains, ’You can only get a certain look from dung paper and it is not great to print on as the fibres stick to the rollers. So it’s not used for high-end, high-volume commercial papers.’
Brian Dougherty of California-based design group Celery Design believes that none of the alternative fibres have taken hold as well as PCW. He argues, ’They all struggle from small volumes, and many lack a clear environmental benefit relative to recycled fibre and FSC-certified wood fibre.’
Luxury paper manufacturer James Cropper feels there is a misconception about PCW and FSC-certified paper, and that brand-owners need to be honestly informed about what alternative fibre papers can and can’t be used for. Jacqueline Redman, marketing manager for James Cropper, says, ’Elephant dung may have an environmental appeal, but it is not strong enough to make a bag or to be used for packaging.’ She continues, ’brand-owners require paper that is functional and has an aesthetic appeal’.
If elephant dung fails to appeal, Robert Horne’s new range of tactile papers, called So Jeans, So Wool and So Silk, offers a more luxurious touch. Each one contains 15 per cent cotton, wool and silk fibre mixed with FSC-certified paper. The papers have attracted top names in fashion, with Dolce & Gabbana using the So Silk paper for its Women’s Winter Collection brochure.
But by far the cleanest and most recyclable paper is made from plastic resins. A few years ago the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart was printed on this ’treeless paper’, which is designed to look and feel like paper but is made entirely from polypropylene. Thomas explains, ’The great thing about recycling plastic is that there is no degradation in quality and it is easy to separate the ink from the plastic, so there is no contamination.’
Unfortunately, the ’plastic paper’ failed to catch on, as the plastic resin requires an entirely different manufacturing and recycling process to paper, according to Thomas.
For now, alternative virgin fibre papers will remain a niche market for those wanting to make a statement, which paper made out of poo certainly does.