Import Ants will be showcasing their products at Gift & Homewares Australia’s Home & Giving Fair,http://homeandgiving.com.au/ 19-22 February.
Working in Sri Lanka, Import Ants sources all paper products from Maximus, a company formed by Sri Lankan villagers. Making paper from the unlikely substance of elephant dung, the material is a fibre-rich waste product perfect for the art of papermaking.
Managing director of Import Ants, Kim Good, says when people find out what her paper is made from, they usually smell it. “And then they go, ‘Oh it just smells like paper!’” “When you think about it, elephants eat the same things that go into a pulp mill: grass and leaves and bark, the elephant is actually the living pulp mill,” said Good.
Good fell in love with the material and the company on a recent visit to Sri Lanka. “They were doing all the right things ethically, even recycling the water they use in production so it ends up as drinking water,” she said.
To make Maximus paper products, villagers in Sri Lanka collect dung of the local endangered species of Asian elephant (Elphas maximus maximus). A Sri Lankan elephant can produce 100 kilograms of dung per day, an enormous resources that can be converted into 6, 600 sheets of A4 paper.
Maximus’ remarkable business model turns waste products into saleable goods. Providing income for 120 workers across two villages, the company also links generation of income with the survival of the endangered Sri Lankan elephant.
“We can’t continue to take from the Earth and not give anything back,” said Good. “People like to know where a product has come from, that it’s not employing child labour. And they want a beautiful product as well.”
The elephant dung is sun-dried, boiled at high temperature and then mixed with recycled office paper to form a pulp. Coloured with salt-based dyes, the pulp is then transferred into a mould and immersed in water. After this, it’s put through a press and left to dry naturally in the shade.
Maximus produces a range of paper cards, plain coloured paper, journals and diaries, children’s notebooks and a promotional products range, which can all take corporate branding.
For Good, her ability to give back to the community is important. “I need to be doing something that is going to help people, so I wanted to import something that would make a difference to the community rather than just being an item.”
Part of the proceeds of Maximus products goes to the Millennium Elephant Foundation, a charity affiliated with the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The fund provides a home for orphaned and aged elephants, protecting a dwindling species that has long competed with Sri Lankans for food and habitat, resulting in the deaths of both elephants and villagers.
Closer to home, Import Ants are also collaborating with Melbourne’s Q Art Studio, which offers real employment opportunities to artists with intellectual disabilities. Q ArtStudio is a not-for-profit company operating as part of Vatmi Industries, an Australian disability enterprise.
Good says, “They loved the whole concept of Maximus paper because it was providing exactly the same sort of thing they do, providing employment for underprivileged people. Even though they’re in two different parts of the world they have a similar ethos.” Good hopes to find more partners like Q ArtStudio so that they can help people in the Australian community as well as in Sri Lanka.
She also hopes their company will help to bring recycling into the mainstream. “Our aim is to help ethically produced; environmentally sound products go mainstream so that people can use it in everyday things, rather than just a one-off novelty item.”
Trying to apply the ethos of Maximus to her own business, She is trying to ensure her company is sustainable by printing on wheat-pulp paper, recycling and by always being on the lookout for opportunities to develop “the lovely symbiotic relationship” that comes from helping communities in Sri Lanka while helping people in Australia. And if good has her way, this is just the beginning.