Elephant Dung Could be the Material of the Future

Yeah, really.

There’s a lot to love about what comes out of the back of the world’s largest mammals. It’s just not thought of as a useful, valuable resource. Because: it’s shit. But the ways it is being used by architects, designers, and entrepreneurial locals with access to piles of this shit, are anything but.

It’s fibrous, funky, and it fully came out of an elephant.

One of those clever people taking a closer look at what is being elegantly termed “elephant dung” is architect Boonserm Premthada—a friend of The Fields since the early days of Wonderfruit, and a global sustainable construction pioneer. During his time spent in the elephant-adjacent communities of Surin, Thailand, Boonserm was introduced to the fibrous, renewable resource by some innovative creators in the area. In Surin, the local people live alongside elephants in symbiotic, productive, domestic partnerships. It takes a lot to keep an elephant fed, and there’s a lot to clean up. But instead of viewing the droppings as waste, the Kuy people have begun to experiment with other ways to repurpose, recycle, and innovate with the poop. Which makes a lot of sense. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, it’s incredibly high in fibre, it’s natural, it’s biodegradable, and it doesn’t have a pungent smell. Yes, elephant shit really don’t stink. It doesn’t smell like roses, but it’s not a bad odor. It can be used to create anything fibrous: paper, bioplastics, clay, and even building materials. The Kuy community have a knack for creating a range of useful, marketable products from elephant dung, including compostable pots for propagation, paper in a variety of textures and colours, and hardy bricks.

Paper art products made from elephant dung.

Plant pots in processing

It’s the bricks that have formed the foundation of Boonserm’s future interest in elephant dung products, and where he is concentrating his energy. By combining elephant dung with cement, hard-wearing, low-impact bricks can be produced, reducing reliance on mined aggregates and carbon-heavy industrial processes. The resulting concrete is naturally reinforced by the fibrous ingredients, and has an intriguing finish thanks to its unusual constituents. The bricks are lighter than their traditional counterparts, but strong enough for the most demanding construction projects. Which means that, all going to plan, your future house could have at least a little elephant poop in it.

It seems unlikely, but that’s the ultimate goal of the project currently under development by Boonserm and the locals of Ba Ta Klang in Surin. If the case can be made for elephant dung bricks, then the industries served by the dung, and the communities helped by the processes, have another incentive to ensure the conservation of the Asian Elephant population in the wild. Because more elephants means more dung. There are too few elephants in the world as it is.

Elephant dung paper can be made in all shapes and sizes

So look out, world. Boonserm and his pachyderm poop products are coming to a construction site near you—proving how natural resources, including animal waste, can be upcycled in a way that generates cultural and economic values to the local community, and maximizes the benefits of the natural resources that exist around them.

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