Japanese Man Invents Edible Plastic Bags to Protect Nara Deer
How often have we come across reports of animals dying because they have consumed plastic? Well, it has become quite common and it is a big deal. While humankind litters the planet with plastic junk, poor animals die after ingesting that litter. Even the animals residing in the protected areas are not safe.
Determined to find a solution to this problem, a Japanese man, Hidetoshi Matsukawa came up with an idea to create edible plastic bags to help protect Nara deer from dying after consuming plastic littered by visitors to the Nara Park. To achieve this goal, he teamed up with a local paper manufacturer and a design firm to work on the project.
Wild deer in Nara Park in western Japan are a major tourist attraction. Around 1,200 deer roam in the park and visitors are allowed to feed them with digestive and sugar-free deer crackers, or shika sembei, which do not come in plastic. Yet despite warnings, some visitors bring other treats to the park and litter the area with plastic bags, which the animals eat by mistake. Last year, a deer was found dead in the park with 4 kg of plastic waste in his stomach.
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I wanted to do something to protect the deer, which is the symbol of Nara. We made the paper with the deer in mind. Tourism in Nara is supported by deer and we will protect them, and also promote the bags as a brand for the Nara economy… We do not have the data to back up that this paper is not harmful to deer, but I believe this is safe for them as well as for human beings.
Said Hidetoshi Matsukawa, a local cosmetics wholesaler and president of Nara-ism (a souvenir wholesale agent), who is one of three designers behind Shika-gami (deer paper) bags. These bags are not made for consumption purposes, but they are safe if consumed by accident.
The edible bags invented by Nakamura are made from rice bran – an ingredient in the deer crackers – and pulp recycled from milk packages. According to the firm, based in the town of Tawaranoto, Nara Prefecture, these bags are easily dissolved in water while being less durable than normal paper.
A cooperative financial institution based in the town, about a 30-minute drive from the park in the city of Nara, bought around 3,000 of the deer-friendly bags to support the efforts of the local companies. Teruo Nakata, the bank’s executive, the bank has been giving the bags to its clients to help them carry documents and they have become a much-talked-about item in the area. The bags have been also tested at the Todaiji temple, Nara’s main tourist attraction.