Oil palm waste-turned-creative paper products

Posted on June 15, 2011. Filed under: Waste |

Guang Ming Daily

Everyone knows that the raw material used to produce papers is timber. When environmental protection was first promoted many years ago, paper recycling instantly became the common and standard practice.

Nowadays, used papers are reclaimed to produce recycled papers. In fact, oil palm trees, which are extensively planted in Malaysia, can also be used to produce oil palm-based papers!

It has been about a decade since oil palm trees were first utilized to make meal boxes and degradable tableware. Today, by integrating designers’ ingenuity, oil palm waste is made into notebooks and bags that give a tactile sensation. Besides being an eye-opener, the move helps oil palm-based papers achieve a breakthrough in the paper industry!

Today, on the shelves are various types of notebooks with their brown covers printed with thought-provoking slogans. They are all oil palm-based items that ooze creativity. “These products were only introduced about two months ago but they have been receiving overwhelming responses in the market,” quipped Liu Shiwei.

aeiou studio, which started out as a manufacturer of gift wraps, was founded by Liu, along with three other friends. Liu was only 24 at that time. Today, the company has several paper-based brands and printing facilities under its belt. Recently, Liu also collaborated with a palm oil chemicals company to upgrade the technology in meal box and tableware production, signifying a venture into the paper manufacturing industry. By leveraging on the company’s original expertise in designing, beautiful stationery is being churned out.

Previously, oil palm branches were burnt immediately after the harvest of palm oil but now, they are used to make papers. In fact, using the fiber of oil palm branches and leaves to manufacture fertilizer and tableware has been practiced for many years locally. However, turning the fiber into well-designed papers is new. After seeing the oil palm-based papers for the first time, Liu, who had vast experience in paper designing and had travelled around the world, instantly knew that the papers “have the potential to go global”.

“Not only are they invented in Malaysia, they are also suitable to be made into designer papers,” Liu confidently said of the palm-based papers with a slightly rough surface.

No pollution and wastage with recycled materials

During the production of these oil palm-based papers, the use of chemicals is minimal as even the printing ink used is made from soybean oil. It can be said that the concept of environmental protection is utilized to the fullest. Liu added, the water used in production process will also be recycled and re-used to avoid wastage and pollution.

Liu and a paper manufacturer subsequently established the “Go Palm” brand which focuses on producing environmental friendly oil palm-based papers. Thought-provoking slogans like “Nuclear Power is not the answer” also feature on products like notebooks and bags. According to Liu, the slogans convey their belief like opposing the use of nuclear power and environmental protection. He hoped that in the future, stronger messages touching on political corruption and others could be conveyed.

Statistics show that as of 2010, oil palm plantation in Malaysia measured a total of 4.82 million hectares. By just imagining how much oil palm waste is produced, we can comprehend the urgency to re-use the waste.

Liu admitted that the only restriction of these recycled papers is their “thickness”. Currently, the relatively thicker papers are only suitable to make bags and covers as thin papers are still the most frequently used papers in our daily lives. It will be a huge leap forward if thin oil palm-based papers were to be produced in the future. Currently, this kind of technology is available but it is necessary for Liu to first overcome financial constraint. He predicted that the thin papers would be introduced by his company within a year.

Liu has a showroom at Fahrenheit 88 in Kuala Lumpur that mesmerizes visitors with all kinds of gift wraps, stationery and paper bags. A Business Administration graduate, Liu immediately ventured into the world of gift wraps after completing his study. He recalled that at the time, only gift papers with roses and violin printing were available on the market in Malaysia. Therefore, he and his business partners decided to do things differently as “distinctiveness signifies fewer competitors” and better acceptability. It took their company one year before it went onto the right track.

When Liu first stepped into Ikea Singapore as a child, he was completely awed by the beautifully designed furniture, prompting him to enter the designing line later on in his life. As he had little funding when he was young, he opted to start with paper designing, in which he could showcase his design concept but came with a much lower cost. “You can put any ideas on the papers and even if you are met with failure, the loss is not massive,” he said, admitting that as he had no backing other than from his own family, he could not afford much risk-taking. He built his business from scratch and now, he has expanded it to more than 50 branches nationwide, and counts major brands like Starbucks and Body Shop as his clients. He is currently providing a wide range of products, including papers and bowknots.

Long before Liu launched the “Go Palm” brand, he had already been focusing on environmental protection issues. The company’s “Green Hill” label is introducing stationery made from recycled papers and they are printed with the “to-do’s” in environmental protection.

Liu also introduced “Moof” that uses creative images to produce attractive gift wraps. On why Liu introduced “Moof” since both of them are gift wrap range, he claimed that the first introduction is targeting the conventional market as it has little breakthrough in creativity while it is the opposite for “Moof”.

Three months to design a gift wrap

Have you seen the earlier logos of “Vincci”, “Hagendaz” and “DHL”? Buy a piece of “Moof” gift wrap and you will be amazed by the many brands that may have existed during the time of our parents and even grandparents. There is also piece of gift wrap featuring old furniture and electrical appliances that read “Foundation – the past is foundation, which what today was built on”. Similarly, behind every gift paper is a message that the designers want to tell the people. Each of the gift wrap takes a designer three months to complete. The designers will first collect the old items, take photographs of them and do the designing work.

Liu cited imitation in China as the probable obstacle faced in this industry. To counter this problem, constant innovation is a must so that other imitators could not keep up and react to it. Introducing Moof is also another measure as it does not consist of mainstream designs and is less likely to be imitated.

Be open-minded, accept every idea

Design industry is full of changes, innovations and competitions, especially with the recent emergence of “soft power”, which is lauded in various countries. In the current market where everyone constantly looks for innovations and changes, Liu said that his biggest enemy was himself. He remained open to any idea and possibility, believing that there’s nothing more dangerous than a closed mind.

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