Each year, billions of trees are chopped down and turned to pulp to meet the world's demand for paper products. And while the paper recycling industry has helped reduce that number over the decades, there remains a previously overlooked source of pulp that's literally being flushed down the toilet every day. Yes, I'm talking about poo.
Most people probably don't care to dwell too long about what happens to the materials that pass through their porcelain thrones with each turn of the its chrome handle – but for Israeli entrepreneur Rafael Aharon, that waste could mean big business.
"We've actually discovered a new source of paper," says Aharon, founder and CEO of Applied Clean Tech. "A real good source if you collect it from the point we do, the point before the biological processes of the wastewater treatment plant destroy it.”
It might make some consumers queasy to imagine they'd ever re-encounter what they flush, but Aharon says he's developed a method of turning the cellulose found in toilet paper and fecal matter into clean recycled paper, fit for a variety of uses. In fact, for the last couple of years, sewage-sourced pulp from Applied Clean Tech has been boldly used in Israel to create one of the few paper products a person might place in their mouths -- envelopes. And so far, nobody's really raised a stink about it.
Regardless of the psychological hurdles of handling what is essentially poo-poo paper, Aharon believes that he's stumbled upon a goldmine which could shake how recyclers do business around the world.
After crunching the numbers, Aharon estimates that recycled toilet paper, and every other solid matter that gets flushed down the drain, can serve the needs of 10% of the market. That's huge news for the paper industry, especially if people will agree to use envelopes, paper and possibly food packaging that was once in someone else's toilet.
Applied Clean Tech is currently in negotiations with wastewater treatment facilities in the United States and Europe to collect their sludge for recycling. If this technology is broadly implemented to make paper products, says Aharon, it could further reduce the number of virgin trees chopped down each year for the same purpose. Still, it's never smooth sailing on a sea of sewage:
"It's a psychological issue that I am aware of," says Aharon.
To ease the fecal-phobic consumers into a future of paper made from poo, perhaps the first thing to be printed on it should be the yellow pages.
Hmm, I may have to think a while longer about number two.