Poo-pyrus: Eco-friendly Paper Made from Poop

paper from manure
Paper (right) can be made from cellulose derived from all kinds of animal manure (left). Kathrin Weiland

It's become an evergreen piece of advice for aspiring writers: Put your butt in the chair and write a first draft, no matter how crappy. Now, thanks to a breakthrough in chemical technology, that first draft can be literal crap — or at least printed on it. Researchers announced at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 that it's possible to turn manure from cows, elephants, goats and other grass-munchers into, wait for it, paper.

As you may already know, paper is made from cellulose that usually comes from trees. Not everyplace has a lot of trees. But as we all know, everybody poops. And some of those poopers leave patties around for the stepping in. Or collecting, if you're of a mind to collect poop like these ACS scientists are.


One of the researchers who presented this idea at the ACS meeting in New Orleans — Alexander Bismarck, Ph.D. — was driving around Crete and watching goats eat grass and poop it out. He thought that maybe the goats were doing to the grass what paper manufacturers do to trees: turn it into cellulose that could be made into paper. Because of course that's what you think of while you're driving around an idyllic island: Cretan excretions.

Some animals, it turns out, do a pretty good job pooping out paper-ready cellulose. Depending on which animal is doing the manure manufacturing, "up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible," said Bismarck in a press statement, and who is not, for the record, known as the "maestro of manure." Yet.

To make paper from trees, the trees have to be ground way down by machine into a pulp before being made into proper paper. Goats do that work — for free — every day of their grass-munchin', poop-leavin' lives. The only thing they require is more grass, which makes more poop, which makes more paper. And they need some water to drink. And maybe little scratches on their chinny-chin chins. It's a more environmentally friendly process than traditional paper making.

The first uses for this poo-paper would probably be industrial, according to the researchers. It could filter wastewater before it's released into the environment, which seems fitting. But poo-pyrus, or "nanopaper" as the researchers rather boringly call it, could also be used to write on, so don't give up, aspiring authors. Your first draft could soon be really, truly crappy.