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How to make elephant poo paper

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

With a combined diet of nearly 300 lb. of food per day, it’s a little surprising that our three female elephants produce about 900 lb. of waste daily! And what better is there to do with 900 lb. of poo than make paper?

In the Banda Hut of the zoo’s African Village, visitors are transforming elephant dung into one-of-a-kind stationery. Beginning with the raw product of elephant poo, zoo staff steam-clean the fibrous poo balls at 160 degrees to eliminate all bacteria. Once cleaned, the poo greatly resembles hay. You see, although each elephant intakes 100 lb. of food daily, only about 40 percent of it is digested for energy. As for the rest, well, it comes back out the other end…

The steamed poo is mixed with a gray, paper pulp, an important ingredient in poo paper-making created by mixing old, shredded zoo maps with water. The old maps are shredded, stripped and soaked in water to break down. Recycling maps for paper-making is no small task. More than 10,000 zoo maps are upcycled every season, which allows us to repurpose zoo materials that would otherwise be trashed.

Making elephant poo paper in the Banda Hut.

Then—here comes the hard work—visitors sit atop a specially-made stationary bike, dubbed the “fender blender,” that powers a food processor. Pedaling, generally meant to propel a bike into forward motion, powers the food processor to blend the wet, recycled maps into a pulp. We’re removing electricity from the blending process by relying on the power of human energy, and it’s pretty cool to see it in action! If you spot the fender blender in the Banda Hut, don’t be shy to ask zoo staff for a ride!

Poo, pulp and water mixture.

OK, back to the poo. Using a combination of 30 percent steamed elephant poo and 70 percent paper pulp and a little water, we create a mud-like mixture. A handful of the mixture is pressed across a mesh frame to hold the shape of a rectangle. This, friends, is paper!

The mixture is pressed across a mesh frame.

With a little shake, the rectangular paper is released from the frame and is soon sandwiched between two pieces of dry felt. Finally, we flatten it out with a rolling pin and allow the felt to soak up any excess water. Within 24 hours, the paper will dry. VoilĂ ! Elephant poo paper is made. Now, who will you find most deserving of your special poo creation?

Rolling out the final product.

Elephant poo paper-making is on the zoo’s daily schedule for just a few more days this summer. Visit the Banda Hut 1:00-3:00 p.m. daily through September 29 to make and take your own elephant poo paper. It's a great way to make something new out of something old, reduce waste, and take a little (unexpected) piece of the zoo home with you!


Anonymous said…
How come elephants produce thrice more waste than the food they eat?
Elephants consume a lot of food but they don't fully digest much of it. Couple that with the additional leaves and hay they choose to browse on throughout their exhibit, and the waste adds up.