25 Nov 2018

Flax baskets replace plastic bags at Christchurch supermarket

4:42 pm on 25 November 2018

A Christchurch supermarket is using an ancient art to tackle a modern problem.

Raeward Fresh customer Paul Hayma.

Raeward Fresh customer Paul Hayma. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

Raeward Fresh at Tower Junction in Addington is the first supermarket in the country to run a pilot offering customers the use of traditional Maori flax baskets as an alternative to plastic produce bags.

The Kai Baskets project was developed by Lana Hart, with funding from Sustainable Initiative Funds Trust.

Ms Hart said the baskets were available free to use within the supermarket, and could be hung inside the supermarket trolley ready to hold fruit and vegetables until people got to the checkout.

Flax baskets were an obvious choice, because they had been used for centuries to store food - and flax was found all over New Zealand, she said.

Skilled local weavers are producing them.

"We harvest and process the flax ourselves," Ms Hart said.

"We boil the flax, we soften it, and make sure it is rid of any mould or bacteria by that rapid boil. Then the flax is softened and we weave it.

"We pay our weavers and we will continue to pay our weavers a good wage for this work."

Ms Hart's not-for-profit organisation delivered the baskets, cleaned them and made repairs as needed, she said.

If the project expands beyond Christchurch, Ms Hart hopes local weavers and organisers can manage the project in each region.

Baskets will be leased to supermarkets for about $60 a year per basket.

Paul Hayman, who shops weekly at Raeward Fresh Tower Junction, said he had enjoyed using the baskets and having the opportunity to cut down on his plastic bag use.

Store owner-operator Simon Turnbull said the project had been a success because it gave customers options.

"The main reason is we are not forcing it on anyone, so those who wish to use it can," said Mr Turnbull.

"Customers already arriving with their own bags - reusable bags - are really embracing it and feel it's quite a positive thing.

"The other customers are seeing how easy it is and are using them too."

He expects the supermarket will keep using flax baskets beyond the pilot and hopes it will be the first of many around the country.

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