Aiming to revolutionize the science behind making paper, these two Australian entrepreneurs came up with an environmentally friendly way to manufacture one of humankind’s most useful inventions without the use of trees.
For almost a millennium, the world only knew of one way to create paper – by using linen, cotton, and hemp rag fibers. Come mid-19th century, with the dawn of the industrial age, paper manufacturers discovered how to make paper from wood. And that has been the common practice ever since.
However, two entrepreneurs named Kevin Garcia and Jon Tse learned that there was a way to produce paper without harming the environment – by using stone as its main material.
“What if we re-engineer how paper is made that’s more in line with our environmental responsibility?” Garcia said.
While on a holiday in Taiwan, the duo accidentally stumbled upon stone paper used as food packaging. Unlike wood-pulp paper, this one was waterproof, so it was the perfect material to use for food business owners.
As entrepreneurs, the concept piqued their interest. They went to visit the factory that was producing the stone paper for industrial uses and thought of bringing it into the consumer market.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the products I am buying and more conscious of the impact I was having on the world’s resources and the environment,” Tse shared. “So when I learned how eco-friendly stone paper was and that is was much more sustainable than the toxic traditional pulp paper, I was really excited by the opportunity to make a ‘dent in the universe.’”
Garcia and Tse combined $30,000 of their own savings to launch Karst Stone Paper in July 2017.
“We put 99% of it into developing product and a website,” Garcia said.
Karst manufactures paper using stone waste sourced from construction sites and other industrial waste dumps. There is no timber, water, or harsh chemicals used during production. The collected waste is then washed and ground into fine powder. It is mixed with HDPE (high-density polyethylene) resin which is compostable or degradable. This means that it decomposes over time from sunlight until only the calcium carbonate remains.
According to Garcia, the mixture is composed of 90% calcium carbonate and 10% resin, which binds the powder together. The paste-like mixture is then turned into small pellets, heated, and fed through large rollers that will transform it into thin sheets of paper.
“The paper can be as thin as notebook paper or as thick as a cardboard paper,” said Garcia.
Since they had a limited marketing budget, they initially had to rely on Facebook to get the word out about their newly-opened company.
“Our initial video reached over 10 million views on Facebook in a few months,” Garcia said.
The entrepreneurs hired the Taiwanese manufacturer and produced 5,000 notebooks in the first run. Fast forward to two years later, the business has sold around 70,000 notebooks to consumers in 81 countries. They made sure to sell these notebooks at a competitive price point. A Karst Stone Paper A5 notebook costs $25 as compared with around $20 for a Moleskin.
“Karst Stone Paper is a superior alternative to traditional pulp paper that uses no trees, water, wastes, acids or bleaches to produce,” it says in their company website.
The factory that produces the notebooks is also environmentally friendly, with it being mainly solar-powered, resulting in a 60% lesser carbon footprint than traditional wood-pulp paper. The company also pledges to plant a tree for every item sold.
Aesthetically, Karst notebooks look just as beautiful as their competitor brands, but the difference is that they perform better. The paper appears to be a brighter white and smoother to write on with the absence of grain found in mainstream paper. Aside from that, it is also waterproof and virtually tear-proof.
From producing notebooks, Karst has expanded their product range to include planners, notepads, sketchpads, and woodless pencils. The company hopes that by the end of the year, they get 1,000 retailers on board. They are also planning to manufacture A4 reams of stone paper that will be used in printers.
“Our ambition is to see Karst Stone Paper in every home and every office,” Tse said. “Organizations are keen to make their workplaces more eco-friendly and are requesting custom stone paper notebooks for their offices and for corporate gifting.”
They have supplied notebooks to large corporate clients including Facebook, WeWork, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, among others.
“This is about much more than just selling something. We want Stone Paper to be a mainstream, sustainable alternative to an everyday product,” said Tse. “We want it to have an impact.”
Watch the video below to learn more about Karst Stone Paper’s story from the co-founder himself, Kevin Garcia.