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The art of paper-folding has a long history in Japan, and the same is true of a type of portable meal known as bento. Bento is a common way to enjoy food in Japanese cuisine. Meals are served in a special lunch box containing various types of food, usually divided into separate compartments. These bento boxes – often small, single-use wooden containers – have been in use in Japan since the fifth century, when they were used to carry meals while out hunting, working in the fields, or heading into battle. Today, most bento packaging is made of plastic and features a transparent lid – just like the takeaway sushi trays that are available in Germany.

Now, in collaboration with the renowned designer Kenya Hara, the Nippon Design Center is introducing a paper bento box that can be folded down to a compact size before being thrown away. The box is being brought to market at a time when takeaway and delivery meals are more popular than ever due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The folding easy-disposal bento box was developed as part of the CYQL PROJECT, which focuses on everyday objects and the ways we use and dispose of them. The boxes are made of a functional, water- and grease-resistant paperboard and are folded from just one piece of card, ensuring that none of the tasty food can escape through the box’s seams. Once users have finished their meal, lines on the cardboard help them fold up the container small enough to tuck it into the lid, which serves as a tidy disposal wallet. Single-use chopsticks can be stowed in a pocket designed for that purpose. The box can then be thrown out without the need for different materials to be separated. (There’s a handy video that demonstrates the whole process.) As you would expect of a Japanese design, the patent-pending box – which was developed with the help of Takeo and Kenichi Chida of Kyoshin Printing – is not just functional and user-friendly, but also attractive and pleasant to handle.

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