Japanese man invents ‘edible’ plastic bag alternative to save Nara’s sacred deer

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CNN

A local entrepreneur in the Japanese tourist destination of Nara has developed an alternative to plastic shopping bags, to protect the city’s sacred deer.

Hidetoshi Matsukawa, who works for Nara-ism, a wholesale souvenir trader, told CNN he heard last year that deer, which roam the city park, were dying after ingesting plastic bags.

“I wanted to do something to protect the deer, which is the symbol of Nara,” he said.

The city is home to around 1,000 sacred deer, officially designated a national natural treasure in Japan, and many tourists feed them.

In July 2019, however, a local welfare group said nine deer had been found dead, with plastic bags in their stomachs, and urged visitors not to throw plastic bags in the park.

Matsukawa wanted to find a different solution to the problem and teamed up with a local paper manufacturer and a design firm to work on the project.

These plastic bags were taken from the stomach of a dead deer.

Together they developed “Shikagami,” or deer paper, made from rice bran and milk cartons.

“We learned that rice bran is mostly wasted in the rice polishing process,” Matsukawa said. “So this document helps reduce that waste as well.”

Matsukawa has had the bags tested and says they are safe for human consumption.

“We don’t have the data to say that this paper isn’t harmful to deer, but I believe it’s safe for them as well as humans,” he said, laughing.

The bags have since been tested at local banks and Todaiji Temple, Nara’s main tourist attraction. As part of the pilot project, the temple and banks purchased 4,000-5,000 bags for 100 yen (about 95 cents) each.

The price will drop if more companies sign up to use the bags, said Matsukawa, who dreams of replacing plastic bags citywide to prevent more deer from dying after eating them.

“The news of deer deaths due to plastic bags creates a negative image, as if the park is a deer graveyard,” he said. “Paper bags can protect deer, as can the Nara brand image with deer.”

Just 45 minutes by train from Kyoto, Nara is a popular destination for visitors to Japan.

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