ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, Octomber 15, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 20


Recycling elephant waste to make paper since 1997 and doing its bit to ease the man-jumbo conflict, Maximus Private Ltd finds itself among a handful of finalists at the World Challenge 2006 contest organized by BBC World and Newsweek magazine

By Salma Yusuf

It is perhaps coincidental that Elephant, Ecology and Economy all begin with the same letter. However, someone has linked the dots and found a connection!

The human-animal conflict set the backdrop in 1997 for Thusitha Ranasinghe to found Maximus (Pvt) Ltd, a company that recycles elephant waste to make paper. What Maximus also does is change the perception of people in the elephant-inhabited areas, to view the animal as a source of value rather than as a hindrance to their lives.

One step in the paper-making process

This Sri Lankan venture now finds itself in the world spotlight having been chosen as one of twelve finalists out of more than 800 applicants for the World Challenge 2006 contest organized by BBC World and Newsweek magazine. The World Challenge contest conducted in association with Shell aims ‘to find individuals or groups from around the world who have shown enterprise and innovation at grass root level’.

World Challenge 2006 is all about global involvement, and casting a net for ideas from individuals or groups deserving recognition. The competition has now reached its final voting stage and the finalists are being profiled on the BBC website, shown in six dedicated World Challenge 30 minute programmes on BBC World and in a special advertising series in Newsweek. Voting can be done by anyone from anywhere in the world until November 19.

‘Elephant Paper’, the Maximus project will be aired today at 2.30 GMT on BBC World and featured in the Newsweek Magazine in its October 23 issue (on sale from October 16).

Maximus initially experimented with different kinds of waste products, but elephant waste became their ‘signature range’ because of the warm appeal that elephants draw both at home and the world over, says Managing Director Thusitha Ranasinghe.

A handful of elephant waste

“We are in a unique position to add economic value to the elephant in an industrious and innovative way by a process which is both human and animal-friendly,” says Thusitha.

The elephant waste is transported from the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela and the Millennium Elephant Foundation to Maximus’ two plants in Kandalama and Kegalle.

Maximus gives priority to employing people directly affected by the elephants, which psychologically heals the victims in that it makes them realize the true value of elephants. “Through the elephant paper industry, we try to make people realize that the elephant is better alive than dead!” explains Thusitha.

Beautiful end product.
Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara.

Schoolchildren are also welcomed often at their two plants as they believe in teaching children the value of conservation.

Interestingly, one notes how the elephant track, from Yala to Wasgamuwa and Udawalawe to Mullaitivu and Wilpattu, is one which passes through areas inhabited by all communities of the country. “Thus we are looking at the bigger picture, hoping that our project will not only foster harmony between man and beast but eventually between man and man as well, in a global context,” explains Thusitha.

Winner announcement

First, second and third prizes in the World Challenge contest will be awarded based on the on-line voting system and a distinguished screening panel.

The winner will be announced at the awards to be held at The Hague, The Netherlands in December 2006. The awards ceremony will be broadcast on BBC World on December 16 and will appear in Newsweek the same week.

The twelve contenders for the award this year are from Madagascar/Mauritius (Blooming Business), Sri Lanka (Elephant Paper), Swaziland (Grass Roots), United Kingdom (Maxitech – Silicon Salvage), Rodrigues/ Mauritius (Care-Co), Botswana (Wild Child- Children in the Wilderness), Rwanda (Card Aid – Cards from Africa), Sweden (Fireproof Juice –Trulstech Group), Sidama Development Action (Powering Up), Bangladesh (Well Water - NGO Dalit) Fiji (Shark Park – Beqa Adventure Divers), Laos (Sunny Side Up- Sunlabob Rural Energy Ltd).


How to vote

You can vote for Maximus at the World Challenge contest by logging on to
By clicking on an image, you can view the project or tick the project of your choice.

Once you have clicked ‘click to vote’ you will receive an email which you will need to respond to, to validate your vote.


Paper process

What strikes the visitor first at Maximus’ Kegalle plant, is the ease and skill, not to mention the cheer with which the workers do their part in the process. About 95% of the work force seem to be women and about 99% of the work is manual thereby providing an increased employment opportunity.

We first see the sorting, cleaning and drying of the raw materials. “The percentage of elephant waste and waste paper used depends on customer requirements,” explains Production and Operation Manager, Wibhata Wijeratne.

The waste then undergoes a process called ‘digesting’ by boiling up to 2-4 hours for fibrous raw materials such as elephant waste, fruit and cotton waste, whereas off-cuts, wastepaper and board need to be soaked from 3-8 hours, which is known as ‘cold digesting’.

No acids, which can be harmful to the environment, are used.

We then move to the beating stage, where the digested pulp is transferred to the Hollander Beater to be crushed to a desired consistency. At this stage, basic chemicals such as alum, China clay, whiting, Rosin and dyes, if required are added to yield different coloured paper.

Blue dying was in the pipeline, literally, when we visited the Kegalle plant, but the racks showcase a wide variety of colours from navy blue and maroon to cream and a range of pastel shades. The beaten pulp is then taken and poured into the lifting vat where each sheet of paper is lifted manually. We meet 21-year-old Dhammika who is among the many women, in the 20- 26 age group, working here. She lives 15 minutes from the plant and travels wth her husband who also works there but in the drying section.

“The staff in this section are higher paid than in other sections as we are constantly in water and use our hands to pile the pulp onto the screen,” she says with a smile. She and the others in this section also carry out the process of ‘couching’ where each sheet of paper is laid on a felt and made into stacks.

The next step needs men for the job as each stack is put into the screw press and pressed to extract water. This requires a lot of energy and force. The sheets are then separated from the felt and hung for drying on racks for one day. They are then exposed to a kerosene oil generated burner for 30 minutes to ensure the stiffness of the paper. “We considered the use of a kerosene dryer because in the rainy season this stage of the process tends to get affected,” explains Wibhata.

The callendering process gives the paper that special finish where the paper is passed through rollers under pressure in stacks with zinc sheets separating them. As the paper slides out of this roller, one feels its smoothness.

The paper is sometimes exported or sold in this form or made into further value added products for custom orders or retail sale.

Wibhata tells us that countries like UK, Japan, Germany and especially USA use the paper mainly as a gift wrap and design amenity. “It is sold at a high price and is viewed as a luxury item.”

At the products section, the team was buzzing with an order for the Ichihara Elephant Zoo in Japan, which had ordered photo frames.

Every zoo in Japan and some in other countries too have counters specially reserved for Maximus’ products.

Susantha and Nissansala, aged 23 and 22 respectively are the two young people responsible for designing the products.

“We use our imagination and creativity. We have not been to any designing school,” they smile. Nissansala also designs invitation cards and shows us copies of what she might use for her own upcoming wedding!

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.