The Lifestyle Portal has brought to light many attempts by people and organizations who strive to make the world a better place. Through personal effort some individuals have made a notable change in our society, which makes us take notice of their efforts.
One such unique organization that we came across is Elrhino – that creates unique items and accessories out of elephant and rhino dung. It not only helps sustain and provide employment to the rural people of the area, but also creates awareness about the fragile ecosystem and the conservation of the endangered species as well.
We caught up with 36-year-old Nisha Bora the Founder of Elrhino about the vision and passion that drives her and the journey so far.
Nisha a Sociology Hons. Graduate from Delhi University, is a qualitative market research professional and a mother of beautiful two children.
How did it all begin?
“It was my father, a retired Mining Engineer, who conceived the idea first. He had a great deal of interest in conservation and had done a Post Graduate Diploma course on Ecology and Environment even while he was working with Coal India limited as a senior Mining Engineer,” recalls Nisha.
After his retirement from Coal India in 2004, he happened to read about elephant poo paper being made in Rajasthan in an in-flight magazine while flying from Delhi to Guwahati. Those were the days of man-elephant conflict coming to a head and of heightened level of poaching rhinos for their horns.
She further adds, “Dad says that he asked himself: If someone can make eco-friendly elephant poo paper in Rajasthan where there are only about a hundred elephants why can we not make it in the Northeast where about eleven thousand elephants roam? Will not handmade paper making from elephant poo and rhino poo as a livelihood option motivate people living on the periphery of these animals’ habitats to protect them as their source of earning?”
The idea became an inspiration for the father-daughter duo to start doing something for the conservation of wildlife and so they began their journey into making poo paper from elephant and rhino dung and to the creation of Elrhino.
Elephant and rhino conservation and the conservation of the ecosystem is central to the idea behind creation of this handmade paper making unit. The Asian elephant is an ecological keystone species: the lives of so many other organisms depend on their existence and they define the ecosystems in which they are found.
The one horned rhino is the flagship animal of Assam. Lose them and the ecosystem quickly deteriorates. The two words ‘elephant’ and ‘rhino’ are combined to make the name ‘Elrhino’. It represents the core philosophy of eco-conservation, which is the guiding principle of the firm.
“The initial investment was Rs. 25 lakhs ( Rs. 11 lakhs on plant and machinery and Rs. 14 lakh on land and building). The unit started functioning with trial production beginning only about a year ago. The financial returns have not been adequate until now, but sales are picking up and we are positive about the financial viability of the unit,” mentions Nisha.
Though Elrhino is basically a brand of handmade paper, it is different from other similar brands/organizations. Elrhino is the only brand of handmade paper in the country that combines elephant dung and rhino dung with other waste material to produce handmade paper.
While generally handmade paper units use hosiery rags as raw material for papermaking, Elrhino’s raw materials include elephant dung and rhino dung. The inclusion of elephant dung and rhino dung give unique characteristics to Elrhino paper in terms of its texture and a great psychological appeal because of its intrinsic conservational value.
Especially the young people have been highly appreciative of the eco-conservational value and of the innovative idea or promoting conservation by making handmade paper from elephant and rhino dung.
Nisha feels that the main challenge is to marry the conservation concerns of Elrhino and its ethical business principles into the economic aspects of business. Using eco-friendly methods and keeping non-ethical business practice at bay is costly as compared with conventional methods and prevalent business processes.
“To put simply, the manufacturing cost of products with eco-friendly raw material and processes is high resulting in higher cost per unit produced. Only those who can afford them and at the same time have a good degree of eco-consciousness rend to buy our product,” explains Nisha.
She further adds, “For the coming six months we will target buyers of the above category willing to buy our products. We have been highly encouraged by the enthusiasm and interest shown in our products by school and college going children. We plan to make affordable products especially designed for this target group and soon to launch campaigns in schools and colleges to popularize Elrhino products. Our aim will be to reach the parents through the students to influence them into buying eco-friendly products like Elrhino’s.”
Apart from the above it is a challenge to use non-traditional raw material like elephant and rhino dung and Assam’s traditional Muga and Eri silk to make paper for which no known methods exist.
“The method followed by us is to conduct trials using various proportions of raw materials and various innovative methods to achieve the desired results. We, by the very nature of our production process, have to constantly encourage innovative thinking and application of the same by our workers,” adds Nisha.
Nisha explains, “Elrhino’s raw material is sourced 100% locally, as cost of imports from the rest of the country is prohibitive. We are being forced to be creative with our processes as well as designs to ensure that our materials are accessible and fit with existing skill sets, allowing a wider community to participate. So most craft designs are locally developed by the village workers, using material that they acquire from the forest.”
The rhino and elephant dung paper made by Elrhino is beautifully textured and has a character of its own. Since each individual sheet is handmade, it is possible to incorporate many interesting element into it.
Elrhino has successfully made bamboo-inlaid paper, paper with Eri and Muga silk. They have also incorporated banana and water hyacinth fibers in their paper to give it exciting textures. By varying the amount and proportion of elephant and rhino the paper can be made to take on many different kinds of exciting textures.
Products and price range:
Here’s a list of products that you can pick up from Elrhino –
1. Note books with fossil imprints of local wild flower in its cover: Rs. 60 – Rs.150
2. Silk cover note books: Rs. 500 – Rs. 1,000
3. Lamp shades: Rs. 500/- – Rs. 1,200/-
4. Paper bags: Rs. 50/- – Rs. 200/-
5. Wall hangings: Rs. 150/- – Rs. 500/-
Other products available at Elrhino are – Office stationary, Table mats, Greeting cards, Wedding invitation cards, Wrapping paper and Bamboo in-lay paper cover note books and diaries.
“It has been a steep learning curve, and we aren’t nearly plateauing yet. In approximately 10 months of operation, we have succeeded primarily in getting our procurement and production flows under control. It has been a challenge working in the North East, as distance and absence of infrastructure makes import of materials and manpower both, exorbitant. Add to that, the absolute absence of skills and training. We’ve had to innovate constantly to reduce costs, become locally self-sustaining and find ways to maximize available resources,” explains Nisha.
She further adds, “At an international level, Thailand and Sri Lanka both make elephant dung paper, with much state patronage. Nepal is another source of elephant dung paper. Because the output is input dependent, the paper looks and behaves differently in each of the above cases!”
The Paper Making Process
If you’ve always wanted to know what goes into making the recyclable Elrhino paper, Nisha shares the processes with The Lifestyle Portal
Steps 1: Collection of raw materials and its preparation:
While elephant dung is collected from the nearby forest where the elephants are used by the forest department as well from domestic elephants owned by others, rhino dung is collected from the peripheral areas of the national Parks of Kaziranga and Pabitora where the rhinos stray into agricultural land of the farmers in search of food and deposit their dung. To add value to the paper in terms of unique textures we also use the famous Eri and Muga silks which are cultural symbols of Assam. For making the final products from our paper we use hand-woven traditional fabric of the various tribes of Northeast India
The wet elephant and rhino dung are washed thoroughly, boiled in water with caustic soda and disinfected. This process removes the lignin (glue that binds the plant cellulose together) from the dung leaving only the cellulose fiber. The dung is dried thoroughly and stored for use.
Cotton rag is collected from various tailors and from rag dealers. It is sorted removing buttons, hooks and other extraneous objects and then cut into tiny pieces in a machine called the rag chopper.
Step 2: Beating:
The raw material is mixed with water in a Hollander beater. Beating in this machine softens the fibres and turns them into pulp.
Step 3: Sheet formation:
The pulp is first stored in a collection tank. It is then diluted with water and put into a masonry trough or vat. The lifting mould (a mesh on a wooden frame) is dipped into the trough, shaken evenly and lifted out with the pulp on it, thus forming a sheet of paper.
Step 4: Couching:
Once the sheet is formed, the wet paper is transferred onto a cloth like muslin or felt sheet and a stack of interleaved sheets in made.
A hydraulic press is used to remove the excess water from the sheets. Pressing reduces the thickness of the paper and the sheets become more compact. This process improves the physical properties of the paper and helps drying.
Step 6: Drying:
Even after the sheets have been pressed, they still contain about 50% to 65% of the moisture. The sheets are then loft dried.
Step 7: Calendering:
The sheets are then placed between metallic plates and passed through spring-loaded rollers in a calendaring machine. This makes the paper smooth and increases the gloss of the paper.
Step 8: Cutting:
The sheets are cut neatly according the required size using a cutting machine.
If you wish to pick up some gorgeous work of recycled stuff from Elrhino, you can get in touch with them to place your order right away – https://www.facebook.com/Elrhinopaper
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