Protecting Japan’s sacred deer with edible bags

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In Nara, Japan, a local man has created an edible packaging material from rice bran and milk cartons after several of the city’s sacred deer died after ingesting plastic bags.

Hidetoshi Matsukawa, a souvenir wholesaler at the popular tourist destination, developed Shikagami, or deer paper, in partnership with a local design firm and paper company.

“I wanted to do something to protect the deer, which is the symbol of Nara,” he tells CNN. “We learned rice bran are mostly wasted in the process of rice polishing. So this paper helps to reduce that waste as well.”

The city’s 1,000 friendly deer are considered national treasures, and often eat treats provided by visitors to the national park. Matsukawa says Shikagami has been shown safe for consumption by humans, and likely won’t harm the deer. Nara’s other main tourist attraction—Todaiji Temple—has been testing the bags as a pilot project.

“The news about the death of deer by plastic bags creates a negative image, as though the park is a cemetery for deer,” Matsukawa adds. “The paper bags can protect deer, as well as the brand image of Nara with deer.”