After being contacted by a Czech aid worker with links to Kenya, a craft paper producer in North Bohemia has come up with a method under which locals on Lake Victoria will be able to turn water hyacinths – an aquatic plant causing great environmental damage – into high-quality paper. I discussed the unlikely sounding collaboration with Michal Gorec, owner of the Papyrea hand paper mill in Zdislava.
“Our paper mill is specialised in paper making from plants and especially from textile plants, like linen flax, the original textile plant.
“So I knew at the beginning it would be possible somehow to make it. Because I have also experience of using nettle flower or plant, I have experience with water algae paper.
“But the basic requirement from our African colleagues was that were no chemicals and no electricity at Lake Victoria.
“So we had to find a very simple method to make paper. And since we are also specialised in Japanese paper making, there are techniques from the 6th century, very simple techniques like manual hand-beating using wooden hammers.
“So we knew somehow it would be possible and we had to find a very simple method that we could reproduce in Africa.”
Why do they need to make paper from water hyacinths in Kenya? Have they not got trees?
“The need is very simple. Water hyacinths are creating large environmental problems at the lake. It’s a very invasive plant, creating a huge green carpet covering the lake and they’ve been trying to think of what to do with such an invasive plant.
“One way is to use it for weaving, when you dry the stem of the flower it can be used for weaving, you can weave baskets and other things. And another idea was to make paper out of it.”
Would you like to take this technology to other countries or to other plants in Africa? It’s very interesting that a small company near Liberec is working internationally like this.
“[Laughs] Yes. At the moment we would like to focus on this one single project. We are at the point where the realisation of the project needs to be done, so we have done research.
“The University of Pardubice is also involved in the research. They did the chemical tests of the water hyacinths.
“We are the guarantor of the process itself, and now we need to find the sources to build up a paper mill, to do the educational training for the people. This is the main part of the project – it’s one thing knowing how to do it, it’s something else putting it into life.”
Is this paper you’re producing similar to the original papyrus, which also was produced from a plant?
“The original papyrus was done using a very different technique. You don’t beat the fibre – you cut the fibre and place the strips of papyrus into a plate and then vertically and diagonally across and press it.
“We don’t call papyrus real paper, because with real paper you have to change the structure of the fibre by beating, by blending, by using hammers.
“And when you have a, let’s call it paper mixture, you put it into a vat, you dip a screen and then you make a sheet of paper. So it’s done in a different way.”