A Spanish company that has pioneered the making of paper out of donkey dung says that sales are soaring.
Jordi Torrent is the owner of the Sastres Paperers paper company and he said that he first came up with the idea during the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020. He told Metropolitan Press in an exclusive interview that the paper is “brown with ‘golden’ marks, which is caused by the fibre in the donkeys’ diet.”
The company is located in the town of Banyoles, in the eastern Spanish province of Girona, in the Catalonia region and Torrent, 44, started looking into new ways of creating paper using natural fibres last year.
Now the paper is sold in shops all over Europe, as well as online, after becoming wildly successful.
The businessman said that the company has been making paper for 34 years. He took over at the helm seven years ago. They are very interested in working with natural materials such as cotton or linen, among others, to create paper for fine arts projects.
Now their paper, which is of a very high quality, is being sold in art supply shops.
Torrent explained that “during the coronavirus lockdown, we explored other materials, in a very open-minded way, looking for innovation”. He was told many years ago that in Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, elephant dung is used to make paper.
But as elephants are not all that common animal in Spain, the businessman thought that donkeys might provide fibres of a similar quality.
Torrent said: “There is a special tradition in the area involving the Catalan donkey, which has special characteristics. It is strong, tall and hardworking, and because of the mechanisation of agriculture, their use has dropped dramatically in the last few years, so much so that you could say that it has become an endangered species.”
So the businessman decided that the best way to pay tribute to this important local animal, the Catalan donkey (Equus afrucanus asinus var. catalana) was to use its dung to create a high-quality, handmade type of paper, in a way that would also help “develop the local community”.
Torrent then decided to talk with a donkey breeder in the area. Taking advantage of the fact that demand for handcrafted paper had temporarily slumped due to the coronavirus lockdown, he started to work with the donkey dung.
According to the businessman, donkey faecal matter makes for a very reliable ingredient for making paper. He explained that handcrafted paper is made using natural fibres, which are a key component in the natural diet of donkeys.
Torrent said: “Paper is made with the cellulose we obtain from vegetables and the donkey, during digestion, does a similar process to that of making pulp to make paper, so it can be said that the work we do is similar to its digestion.”
The donkey dung is then left outside to dry and be cleaned. Sometimes it is left out for weeks at a time, because allowing it to rest and be cleansed by rainwater acts as a sort of first wash and first treatment of this fibre, Torrent explained.
The dung is then taken to a mill where it is washed again in order to remove any stones or small branches.
Then there is the process of refining the pulp to make paper. According to Torrent, in just one morning, during which time 20 minutes is spent washing the pulp and around one hour spent refining the process, there is enough pulp to create 500 pages of A4 paper.
Torrent claims that the process is not smelly, as donkey dung does not smell bad. He also said that handling the dung is safe, adding that “everyone working the fields is more exposed to bacteria than we are.”
After the pulp is ready, the process of creating the paper is actually fairly similar to the traditional one. Torrent explained: “We make pages using moulds and after that they are left to dry in a natural process and after a day they are dry.”
Despite the mould being 50 by 70 centimetres (19.68 by 27.55 inches), the paper is sold in A4 format, having been cut after the drying process.
The workers then put the paper in packets of 10 A4 pages, with seven pages weighing 130 grammes (4.58 ounces), and three pages weighing 270 grammes (9.52 ounces), which are a bit thicker and can be used as envelopes, as cards, or for fine arts, with a total cost of around EUR 15.96 EUR (USD 19; GBP 13.68) for 10 pages.
The paper is sold in three different shops in Barcelona, in the Catalonia region, in eastern Spain. It is also sold in the French capital Paris, in Belgium, in Denmark and in other parts of Europe. And it can even be bought online through their website.
Despite the paper being of a very high quality, their slogan is “sh*t paper for sh*t times.”
The businessman said that their donkey dung paper has been a great success and that they did not expect that, as they only did it as a way of experimenting with other materials and to call attention to the way they work.
According to Torrent, the paper they make is commonly used by fine arts artists and by advertising designers because “the paper is not just a place to convey a message, it is the message itself”.