Saturday February 9, 2013
Popular palm paper
By CHIN MUI YOON
An enterprising stationery and gifts production company is setting a trend with its brand of tree-free paper products from palm oil leftovers.
AT a bookstore in a mall, a range of brown notebooks, folders, paper bags and boxes is juxtaposed with similar items awash in colour. In a world where a myriad products compete for our retail attention, it’s remarkable how that plain brown paper still manages to stand out.
This unique range of products is the Go Palm, designed and manufactured by local stationery and gift products company A.E.I.O.U. Studio.
Established in 1996, the company is known for its wide variety of handmade cards, gift boxes, wrapping paper, and notebooks distributed through more than 500 retailers nationwide, as well as custom-designed stationery produced for corporations or private buyers.
Its Go Palm range of products uses paper made from one of the most abundant, sustainable and natural raw products available: the empty fruit bunches, or EFBs, of oil palm.
Oil palm plantations produce a lot of EFBs, mesocarp fibre, palm kernel shells and palm kernel cakes that can be recycled as biomass. Over 15 million tonnes of EFBs alone (that are commonly used as mulch or incinerated for ash) are estimated to be generated annually by palm oil mills across Malaysia. EFBs are also used as a component of wood-based products such as particle and fibreboards and composite panels as well as for soil stabilisation and horticultural purposes.
Making stationery and packaging out of such raw material offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to using pulp obtained from timber.
“Four years ago we discovered a paper mill in Johor Baru that was developing paper made from EFBs and we were delighted at how durable and unique it was,” says A.E.I.O.U. Studio marketing executive Raymond Foo during a recent interview at the company’s Kuala Lumpur headquarters.
“The paper is continuously being refined but we are already utilising it as notebook covers, box files, carry bags and folders – its stronger quality is ideal for such uses.
“We are particularly excited about Go Palm, as it fits right in with the direction we took six years ago, when we embarked on producing a ‘green’ series called Green Hills Blue Ocean using Forest Stewardship Council-sourced paper with minimal colour and design.
“Seeing how popular that series is, is what led us to source for locally available materials for a similar green series.”
Art director Joseph Lo says that while the Go Palm paper is presently too thick to be used as writing paper, it is an excellent and sturdy material for notebook covers and boxes that require durability. The paper is also sterilised to make it safe as food packaging.
“Go Palm has a unique rough texture that our customers like because it feels wholly natural,” says Lo.
“It is 100% biodegradable, as it is not bleached, and we only use minimal soy ink printing. It has a very distinctive raw, rough and untreated feel to it that designers like me really enjoy working with. The global trend is also for products that are more natural.
“We started experimenting with it by producing cake boxes first. The good demand has led us to develop an entire range. We are now trying to develop thinner paper so that we can produce complete notebooks.”
The EFBs, which look like a hardened mass of spiny tree branches after the oil palm fruits are harvested, have their fibre extracted and soaked in recycled water from the plantations. They are then ground into a powder form before undergoing the usual paper production process.
One customer that has been supporting the Go Palm series is The Body Shop, which uses the paper for packaging and Christmas paper bags.
“We are always happy to support companies with innovative products, as The Body Shop International is a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,” explains Datin Mina Cheah-Foong, managing director of Rampai Niaga Sdn Bhd, the franchise holder for The Body Shop in Malaysia.
(The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a not-for-profit association that promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.)
“We have always used recycled paper for our packaging that is sourced from non-virgin forests. With Go Palm, we are seeing improvements every year with the paper, as we require paper that is thin but strong and durable.
“The best thing about Go Palm is that it’s environmentally friendly, sustainable and locally sourced. We must be prepared to support endeavours like this and prepare a market for such products, as the profits would be ploughed back into research and development for even better products in future.”
Foo says the company has received positive feedback from customers at international exhibitions and is exporting products to the UAE, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“We see strong potential with Go Palm,” he says.
“Thailand is famous for its handmade paper made from the mulberry plant while sugarcane is used as paper in the Philippines.
“Likewise, we hope that our Go Palm range will be a range of wholly Malaysian produced, made and designed paper products that can represent our country.
“After all, the first thing foreigners see when they visit Malaysia is our oil palm plantations just outside the KL International Airport!”