Reams of Sheep Poo Paper dry in a zero-waste factory in Snowdonia, Wales. (Credit: Creative Paper Wales)
A Welsh company is turning sheep droppings into paper. This zero-waste operation recently won an award for social entrepreneurship. Host Bruce Gellerman talks to Lawrence Toms, co-owner of the company that produces Sheep Poo Paper.
GELLERMAN: Some people poo-poo recycling. But not Lawrence Toms. He recycles poo-poo. Lawrence Toms is a co-founder of Creative Paper Wales, maker of Sheep Poo Paper. To get the poop about the paper – sorry, I couldn’t resist – we phoned him, and he joins us from Snowdonia, Wales. Mr. Toms, it’s good to speak with you.
TOMS: Hello, Bruce. It’s a lovely, sunny day here in Snowdonia. Nice to speak to you.
GELLERMAN: Sheep poo paper. Dare I ask where you got this idea from?
TOMS: By all means. It’s not entirely original, I have to tell you. The degree of originality is in using sheep. In the developing world it’s well known to make paper out of elephant dung, for example. And indeed dung is a valuable commodity in developing countries where it is used for a number of things including fuel for fires. And we just went out to view a couple of these operations in the Far East and came back armed with information and tried to see if we could make it work with sheep poo. And six months later we worked out a way of doing it.
GELLERMAN: Tell me how it’s made.
TOMS: We find very fibrous sheep dung. We do sterilize the sheep poo in a large industrial autoclave almost as soon as it arrives at our unit. And so once that’s done, anything that would survive that process would survive re-entry on the nose cone of the shuttle. So, it’s sterile enough, if you had a strong enough stomach, to eat it at that stage.
Then we run it through an antique piece of machinery called a Holland beater, which reduces the fibers to pulp, which are then formed in to sheets and we turn them into lovely products.
GELLERMAN: Well, what about the water that comes out of the process? I would imagine there’s waste from that.
TOMS: We don’t really like the word waste, I have to tell you. Something is only waste if it doesn’t have a use and it causes a problem. With our process, I think what’s absolutely wonderful about it is that after we’ve washed the sheep poo, the water which is loaded with all of the nutrients we sell to local grocers as an organic fertilizer. It’s been instrumental in winning prize vegetable competitions. So it’s in much demand. In fact I would say at the moment it’s as popular as the paper, and we’re delighted by that. Or as poopular even.
GELLERMAN: [laughs] Well, you’ve got plenty of fiber-eating sheep out there in Wales.
TOMS: And they only digest 50 percent of what they swallow. So, coming out the back end of a sheep is 50 percent cellulose fiber which has already been pre-chewed, which reduces the amount of processing we have to do. People love the idea that something that other people would walk past can be turned into something beautiful and valuable. So, we are in fact, a zero waste operation. Everything that comes in the front door goes out as a usable product. So, it’s the ultimate in recycling really. Even the washing water is sold on as fertilizer.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Toms, how many sheep does it take to make a ream of sheep poo paper?
TOMS: That’s an interesting question. If I wanted to produce one ton of sheep poo I would need two and a half sheep for one year. Now, obviously half a sheep wouldn’t produce any poo at all. That’s just a biological impossibility, but it gives you a rough idea of it. It takes about 3 tons of sheep poo to produce one ton of paper.
GELLERMAN: That’s a lot of poo.
TOMS: That’s a lot of paper.
TOMS: A ton of paper is a lot of paper. To give your listeners some idea, 3 tons of sheep poo making one ton of paper would produce about 140,000 greetings cards. So, that’s quite an efficient process we like to think. Especially when you consider that we don’t need to use all of the energy-intensive machinery that they use in traditional paper mills, because all of our fibers have been pre-processed by our lovely sheep.
GELLERMAN: Now, if I were to write a love letter using sheep poo paper, would I be sending the wrong message, that is, is there any smell to this?
TOMS: Well, there is a smell. And funnily enough it’s quite pleasant. Once we’ve washed it and boiled it, basically what you’re left with is nothing more than macerated hay. And the smell of the paper is a little like a freshly mowed hay field. We think there is a great romantic value to this. We sell all sorts of products that people can use. Of course you have a paper anniversary after one year. So, we do sell quite a lot to people, and wedding invitations, we’ve done. But we like to think that roses are red and violets are blue, but our paper’s great ‘cause it’s made of poo.
You can see I’ve spent a lot of time on that one.
GELLERMAN: What about at the old factory, I mean the place where you make the paper. Are there a lot of poop jokes?
TOMS: You’d have thought there might be, but after a couple months, I think you run through them all. [laughs] We are thinking of running a pooetry competition. Where people send in their poems, and we decide which are the best and then we’ll publish them on the sheep poo paper, as you know pooetry from Wales.
GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Toms thank you very much.
TOMS: No problem at all, Bruce. Nice to speak to you.
GELLERMAN: Lawrence Toms co-founded Sheep Poo Paper. The company is based in Snowdonia, Wales.
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