A hand paper-maker for bananas, sisal, etc

South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed a small-scale production unit for handmade paper. The first applications for the unit – seven have been supplied for community projects within South Africa – are in the processing of banana leaves. Banana leaves are generally left to lie on the ground after harvesting, where they produce some fertiliser for further banana cultivation. With the handmade paper unit, these leaves can be made into paper.
The unit can, however, also be used to produce handmade paper from many other agricultural fibres – for instance sisal, grass, cotton, wool, flax, and any other cellulose-containing materials.
This is proven technology and it produces good-quality paper, which can be very robust and firm – and even board.
The product is particularly for artistic and niche application papers.
Abisha Tembo, manager: fibres and textiles, of the CSIR's material science and manufacturing unit in Port Elizabeth, says in the community projects, participants had been encouraged to add value to the papers by, for instance, making them into Christmas cards, books etc.
These could be marketed with a local flavour. For instance, they have been marketed for the Kruger National Park (South Africa' s foremost nature reserve).
However, the production units do not necessarily have to be used in community projects – they could easily constitute viable local businesses, says Tembo.
Basically the machines create the paper by pulping the fibre with a beater which opens it up; thereafter chemicals are added. Finally the material is dried and smoothed.
A basic machine cost about $6,000.
* Another application for "waste" banana leaves is the manufacture of absorbent fabric and pads such as used for absorption spills in garages (instead of, for instance, sawdust) and to cope with oil spills etc.
However, this must be manufactured with a large-scale machine – technology for this oris also available from Tembo.
Contact Abisha Tembo, CSIR Material Science and Manufacturing: Tel +27-41-508-3200; atembo@csir.co.za