When Hidetoshi Matsukawa found out deer in his town were dying, he collaborated with a local paper manufacturer and design firm to create the edible paper "Shikagami."
The small tourist town of Nara in Japan is known as a sanctuary for its sacred deer. However, last year, several deer were killed after ingesting plastic bags. Therefore, a local entrepreneur from the area has invented an edible alternative to plastic bags in order to protect the town's wildlife, CNN reports. Hidetoshi Matsukawa works for a souvenir wholesale agent called Nara-ism. He wanted to make sure Nara's deer were safe and healthy, so he teamed up with a local paper manufacturer and a design firm to work on the new material. The three of them came together to create "Shikagami," a kind of paper made from rice bran and milk cartons.
Matsukawa said in an interview with CNN, "I wanted to do something to protect the deer, which is the symbol of Nara." There are an estimated 1,000 scared deer in the town of Nara. The deer have even been officially designated as a national natural treasure in Japan, and many tourists who visit Nara feed them treats. Sadly, in July 2019, nine deer were found dead according to a local welfare group. All nine deer were discovered with plastic bags in their mouths. The group urged visitors not to throw away plastic bags in the park, but the entrepreneur wanted to do something more.
Working with the local paper manufacturer and design firm, Matsukawa developed "Shikagami." "We learned rice bran [is] mostly wasted in the process of rice polishing," he shared. "So this paper helps to reduce that waste as well." The material has since been tested and the entrepreneur has confirmed it is safe for consumption. He said, laughing, "We do not have the data to back up that this paper is not harmful to deers, but I believe this is safe for them as well as for human beings."
The bags have been tested at local banks and even the Todaiji temple, which is Nara's main tourist attraction. As of now, the temple and banks have purchased four to five thousand bags from Matsukawa for 100 Yen each. That is about 95 cents in US dollars. This is only as part of the pilot project; if more businesses purchase the bags, the price is expected to fall. The entrepreneur hopes to see every business in Nara use the bags to prevent more deer from dying after ingesting the plastic bags. "The news about the death of deer by plastic bags creates a negative image, as though the park is a cemetery for deer," Matsukawa said. "The paper bags can protect deer, as well as the brand image of Nara with deer."