Salay Handmade Paper started in 1987 as the Industry Group of the People's Economic Council, a non-government organisation based in the coastal town of Salay. It provides local farmers, housewives and young people who have left school with a means to generate income, as well as using environmentally sustainable production techniques. One the main raw materials used in the production of the paper is cogon grass, a weed that has taken over areas of land that could otherwise be used to grow food.
No two pieces of Salay paper are exactly the same, as each is handmade from a different combination of cogon grass, abaca, salago, pineapple leaves, sugar cane leaves and banana bark, and then decorated with pressed fresh flowers and leaves. Paper made from cogon grass is produced through what is called the "soda process". The grass is cleaned, then cut into lengths of about 2.5cm and boiled for several hours in a solution of caustic soda and water. After rinsing the fibres in water, they are beaten in a mortar and pestled into a smooth pulp. Moisture is then squeezed from the pulp, before mixing in the mucilage, a sticky solution derived from the okra fruit. The pulp is placed on a flat screen and any remaining water is squeezed out with a rolling pin. Finally, the wet sheets of paper are pressed flat.
The Salay artisans use the paper to make a variety of handicrafts, including notebooks, photo albums, photo frames and boxes.