Japanese man invents ‘edible’ plastic bag different to save lots of Nara’s sacred deer

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

Hidetoshi Matsukawa, who works for Nara-ism, a souvenir wholesaler, told CNN he heard last year that the deer roaming the city’s park would die after ingesting plastic bags.

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

The bags are made from rice bran and milk cartons.

Courtesy of Bunyodo

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

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

Matsukawa wanted to find another solution to the problem and worked with a local paper maker and design company to work on the project.

These plastic bags were pulled from the belly of a dead deer.

These plastic bags were pulled from the belly of a dead deer.

Courtesy of Bunyodo

Between them they developed “shikagami” or deer paper, which is made from rice bran and milk cartons.

“We learned that most of the time rice bran is wasted when polishing rice,” Matsukawa said. “So this paper also helps to reduce this waste.”

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

“We don’t have the data to show that this paper is not harmful to deer, but I believe it is safe for both them and humans,” he said with a laugh.

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

The price will fall as more companies sign up to use the bags, said Matsukawa, who dreams of replacing plastic bags across the city to prevent more deer from dying after eating them.

“The news of deer deaths from plastic bags creates a negative image, as if the park were a deer cemetery,” he said. “The paper bags can protect deer, as can Nara’s brand image with deer.”

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

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