Finding your desk covered in animal dung doesn't have to be a bad thing.
When it's in stationery form, at least.
Whenever entrepreneur Michael Flancman talks about his business, there's usually an elephant in the room. That's because he runs the Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Co., a unique, environmentally conscious company based in Thailand that specializes in turning elephant dung into paper goods and stationery.
Flancman told AOL News that while the idea of "repurposing" poo into paper may sound gross, in reality, the process is quite simple and sanitary.
Here's how it works: Every week, Flancman and a team of employees visit elephant conservation parks near Chiang Mai to collect naturally dried elephant droppings.
After the poo is gathered, Flancman said it's carefully rinsed with water, leaving only the fibrous materials from the grasses, bamboo and fruits the elephants have eaten but couldn't digest.
Then, Flancman said, those fibers are thrown into a giant pot of boiling water to ensure an even more thorough cleansing and sterilization, leaving the fibers primed and ready to be made into paper.
Once additional fibers from pineapple plants and trees are thrown into the all-natural mix to add thickness, Flancman said his team separates the moist pulp into small cakes that are then spread over a mesh-bottomed tray and left out to dry naturally under the sun for several hours.
Once dry, the cakes transform into sheets of paper, and Flancman and his crew are able to peel them off the tray and start making Poo Poo Paper products.
He said this tedious handmade process is repeated often, and in the end, the paper comes out sturdy and oatmeal-colored without a hint of stinkiness.
"Even though it's made of poo, our paper has no smell whatsoever. The boiling of the fibers acts as an antiseptic treatment and takes care of that. We may sell poo for a living, but it doesn't smell like it," explained Flancman. "That's the No. 1 question we get about our products. Customers still find themselves sneaking a quick sniff at the stationery, just to make sure."
Though elephants in Thailand are Flancman's main "suppliers," he said his company has been recently branching out to include products made from cow, horse and donkey poo.
Still, he admitted, no animal provides as much raw material for his business as elephants, whose tremendous turds go a long, long way.
"Have you seen a piece of elephant poo? It's huge," Flancman said. "We can make about 25 letter-sized sheets of paper with just one piece of poo or 10 standard-sized journals. We have a bounty of material to work with out here."
Though he's the head honcho, Flancman said he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.
He regularly gathers the poo himself alongside an organized network of employees and farmhands and says they collect roughly 5,000 pounds of poo from elephant conservation parks every week.
He also has a huge hand in the step-by-step paper-making process, though he's had a little extra help as of late.
Flancman said he's begun incorporating some "rudimentary" machines into the paper-making routine so he can pump up production, improve his products and lower costs.
"The paper has really evolved from when we first started doing this in 2004," he explained. "At first it was chunky and coarse, but now it's evolved into sturdy, flat paper in various sizes. The machines have helped us smooth out the paper so it's easier to write on and have also helped us lower the costs on our products. The goal was to make a fully sustainable, eco-friendly product that was still accessible and affordable to consumers."
Besides finding a functional way to repurpose a raw material like poo and add to the planet's sustainability cycle, Poo Poo Paper serves another deep purpose.
Flancman said a portion of the profits from his paper goods is donated to elephant welfare and conservation programs as a means of keeping his main "suppliers" safe, well-fed and content.
"Every year we allocate some money to donate to elephant preservation parks here in Thailand. We've helped build shelters for five elephants over the years and plan to continue doing our part to help these incredible animals and spread the message of sustainability."
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