Japanese Man Develops Edible Paper Bags to Save Deer Life in Nara

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A Japanese local from the city of Nara, near Osaka in Japan, along with two other colleagues, developed edible paper bags to save deer lives in the area. Last year, as many as nine deer lost their lives and it was found that they had several kgs of plastic bags in their stomachs.

Nara is a tourist destination in Western Japan, 45 minutes from Kyoto by train. Every year, thousands of tourists visit Nara which is a small town with a deer population totaling 1200. The tourists visit the park in Nara to see the deer. They are allowed to feed them sugar-free rice bran crackers called “shika sembei.”

The crackers are sold in nearby shops and do not use plastic wrappings. However, most tourists feed the deer with food stuff they carry with them, later littering the place with the leftover food and plastic bags. These bags are then consumed by the deer causing a health hazard and sometimes even death. In July 2019, the local welfare group said that nine deer were found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs.

Shikagami edible paper bags by Hidetoshi Matsukawa
Image: Mainichi

In reaction to this, a Nara local Takashi Nakamura, who runs a paper company in the city, came up with the idea and teamed up with two colleagues and developed digestible paper bags called “Shikagami.” These bags are made from pulp recycled from milk packages (which are easily dissolved in water) and rice bran which is left over after rice polishing.

Therefore, the ingredients used are completely recycled materials. The team faced challenges as the printing machines got clogged due to the powdery uncoated surface of the paper but was later solved by the team.

Image: Naranoshikasan

Hidetoshi Matsukawa, President of the three-member development company, said:

“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.” (source)

The team developed 3000 bags which were bought by the local bank Nara Chuo Shinkin Bank, a co-operative financial institution, about a 30-minute drive from the park. The bank has been giving the bags to its clients to carry their documents. More bags have been bought by the city’s tourism bureau and a pharmacy. These bags were supplied at 95 cents per bag.

Plastic Pollution and Animal Deaths

A plastic bag can kill numerous animals because it takes very long to disintegrate. An animal dying of eating plastic bags decomposes but the bag doesn’t, leading to risk of harming other animals. It can take anything between 20-1000 years for a plastic bag to break up. Plastic does not break down and when it does, it turns into polymers and toxic chemicals. 100,000 marine creatures a year die because of plastic entanglement.

Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. This translates into about a million bags every minute across the globe, or 150 bags a year for every person on earth.  And the number is rising.

The following are just a few representative cases:

  • A duck-billed platypus was found strangled to death by a hair tie.
  • Half of all camels that die on the Arabian Peninsula each year are killed by ingesting plastic bags, which form heavy calcareous lumps in their stomach.
  • An Indian elephant was killed by eating plastic shopping bags in India in 2018.
  • In 2018, reindeers in Norway were killed by abandoned fishing nets.
  • Eight African elephants died in Zimbabwe in 2016 after eating plastic bread bags.

Prevention is Cure

The best solution to preventing plastic pollution and stopping it from damaging the environment and killing animals is to reduce its use. Plastic bags can be replaced by organic material bags such as canvas, denim, jute, and vegetable waste. Plastic plates, cups, and cutlery can be replaced with paper and plastic straws with paper straws. Reducing the consumption of plastic is purely a personal choice. It is important to raise awareness about the hazard to help save the environment.

Governments have woken up to the hazard of plastic pollution and many countries have banned the use of single-use plastics. In India, states like Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra have banned the use of single-use plastic. Some of the other countries who have joined the drive are the US, Canada, Peru, European Union, China, Columbia, Senegal, Romania, Rwanda, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Albania, Georgia, and Samoa.

Single-use plastic includes everyday items like grocery bags, soda bottles, and disposable drinking straws. So far, more than 112 countries, regions, and cities across the world have agreed to curb the sale of certain single-use plastic items.

How Technology Can Help

In Kawasaki, Japan few technology companies came together and got their researchers to put their heads together to solve the plastic problem of the area. They created the world’s first ‘Hydrogen Hotel’ which was opened in 2018. It is a complex process that uses 195 tons of waste plastics and recycles it per day, turning it into hydrogen which in turn is converted to heat and power to provide 30% of the hotel’s energy needs. The whole process is CO2 free.

This needs to be implemented in other locations across various projects throughout the world.

Developing countries are among the worst affected by plastic pollution as they do not own the technology to safely process plastic waste so it eventually gets either buried, burned or released into the oceans. However, they are in most need of products such as food, medical supplies, and other items that come in plastic packaging.

Image: Naranoshikasan