Could the future of paper be cow-dung? An experiment to turn cow and horse dung into paper.

Background (Initially posted in April, 2020)

Since toiletpaper has become an important topic over the last weeks, I became dedicated in learning about its production process. I quickly learned that to extract fibers from wood ligning (acts as natural glue) for (toilet)paper but also textile, a lot of chemicals are needed.  Because I had no machinery to produce toiletpaper, I experimented with producing paper only with naturally abundant resources mechanically.

To begin with, I started producing paper made of grass, as the fibers are very long and stick well without having to use any glue.

Because I was drying and then processing the freshly cut grass, it appeared rather time-consuming; This made me remember the role animals play in digesting only parts of their food and dispersing seeds and other residues for further use. To avoid the processing of fiberous grass or hay mechanically, I came up with the idea to experiment with my neighbors’ cow and another neighbors horse dung.

And hurray!  the processing of it into paper was much simpler. Because the residues were rather short, I mixed it with grass fibers to hold the paper together. Ta-daa; I created different types of paper using only organic (waste) materials.

The Process

Extracting Grass Fibers as dung chip paper binder

Step 1

  • Cutting wildely growing grass
  • Drying it (i.e window or on top of a heater)
  • Because grass has long fibers, I recommend cutting it into smaller pieces
  • Cooking it between 1 and 2 hours

Step 2

  • After cooking, rinse the fibers. To do so, I used a simple noodle strainer.
  • Feel free to pour more water over the strainer and wash the grass more often with your hands.

Step 3

  • Because grass is very fiberous, I recommend using a small portion, fill it in a bucket with water (rather use more water then too less) and mix it. To do so, I used a simple blender with two blades.
  • It is likely that the fibers will quickly tweeze around the blades and knot together.
  • Unplug the blender from the socket and add the blend back into the bucket and rins it out.
  • Repeat this process multiple times until you do not see a lot of greens around the fiber mix anymore (This could take between 10 to 20 minutes)
  • Your fibers are ready and can be put aside.

Extracting dung-chips for paper

Step 4

  • Find a horse or cow dung supplier (for paper I recommend using horse dung, because the diet is less mixed. The horse dung I used came from a horse that is mainly fet with natural grass, so the residue, I would call it dung chips is available in high quantity and quality)

Step 5

  • If you try it at home, please cover the area around the sink, because you don’t want the dung splashing around
  • Fill the bucket with water and mix it with a spoon until the dung dissolves into one liquid mass. It goes very quick with horse dung in oppose to cow dung.

Step 6

  • Rinse and wash it multiple times.
  • The water will become gradually lighter

Step 7

  • Here is now the part where I am washing the horse chips with laundry detergant.
  • I followed the same processing of washing and rinsing it out. The laundry detergant (used it 1 time) really helps in cleaning the chips as you can see on the lighter water.

Step 8

  • Cook the chips (I added 5 tablets of soda) for around 20 minutes to remove the bacteria.
  • Rinse it out again for two more times to have pure and clean horse/cow chips/dissolvant.

Step 9

  • We are ready to mix horse dung chips with grass fibers.

Step 10

  • Now we can follow a simple paper making process using the grass fibers and the horse chips.
  • I recommend watching the video below, because it nicely illustrates the entire paper making process

Here are a few photos of my paper making process for which I used an old picture frame and a mosquito net.

Step 11

  • Ready!

Congrautlations – We made paper from farm waste and wild fibers!

  • Amazingly as gift πŸ™‚
  • The paper smells very natural (not like dung)
  • The chips can be used for many more products (creating a truly circular bio-based economy), i.e. pallet parts and pellets.
  • Nature (fauna and flora) has many interacting solutions towards a more sustainable world. By using animal chips, we skip the process of wood chipping and simply create value from waste.
  • Could animal could play a solution for deforestation?
  • A mind shift may be needed to move our thoughts away from “stinky dung” to value dung.

Special Thanks to

  • Amazing YouTubers
  • Friends and family
  • My former teacher in ecology at TU Dresden for teaching me about seed digestion and dispersal
  • My former university Windesheim Honours College that engaged us students in a human waste challenge
  • My last university (Maastricht University) for reaching out to alumnis and asking how we spend our time in the face of covid-19 and motivating to write a blog on that topic
  • Maastricht Sustainability Institute, who taught us students to think in systems and about innovation for sustainability
  • My enthusiastic cowfarm neighbor
  • The wonderful owner of a horse
  • Very much, the innovative farm I get to stay and help out at πŸ™‚

Interested to learn more about it or curious to think about new bio-based innovations? Please feel free to reach out.

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