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

(CNN) – Local Entrepreneur at Japan Tourist Center Nara developed an alternative to plastic shopping bags to protect urban sacred deer.
Hidetoshi Matsukawa, who works for Nara-ism, a souvenir wholesaler, said: CNN Last year, he heard that deer roaming 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 bags are made from rice bran and milk bags.

The bags are made from rice bran and milk bags.

Contributed by Bunyodo

The city is home to about 1,000 sacred deer, officially recognized as a national natural treasure. Japanand many tourists feed them treats.

However, in July 2019, a local charity reported that nine deer had been found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs and urged visitors not to discard plastic bags in the park.

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

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

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

Contributed by Bunyodo

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

“We learned that rice bran is mostly wasted in the rice polishing process,” Matsukawa said. “So this paper also helps to reduce that waste.”

Matsukawa checked the packages and said they were safe for human consumption.

“We don’t have data to prove that this paper is not harmful to deer, but I believe it is safe for both them and people,” he said, laughing.

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

The price will drop if more businesses sign up to use the bags, said Matsukawa, who dreams of replacing plastic bags across the city so more deer don’t die after eating them.

“The news about deer deaths due to plastic bags creates a negative image that the park is a cemetery for deer,” he said. “Paper bags can protect deer as well as Nara’s deer brand image.”

Nara is only a 45-minute train ride from Kyoto and is a popular destination for visitors to Japan.