New Brunswick

So you want to reduce your plastic waste, eh?

If you're looking to cut down on the plastic waste you generate in 2020, Karin Aurell of Sackville has some tips for you.

Sackville woman shares lessons from six months of trying to live plastic-free

Karin Aurell of Sackville says she's changed her shopping habits drastically since beginning a plastic-free challenge in June. (Jonna Brewer/CBC)

If you're looking to cut down on the plastic waste you generate in 2020, Karin Aurell has some tips for you.

The Sackville woman challenged herself in June to go a month buying as little plastic as possible.

And she hasn't looked back.

"It was just one of those silly epiphanies," Aurell recalled.

She had forgotten her reusable mug and was standing outside a coffee shop holding a disposable cup when she was hit by a wave a shame.

"All of a sudden I felt incredibly embarrassed and I thought, this is crazy. I don't want to do this ever again."

Aurell brings glass containers and cloth bags with her when she goes to the grocery store or market. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

Aurell embarked on a mission that has changed the way she buys just about everything — from yogurt to windshield-washer fluid.

She's shared her progress on social media.

In the beginning, Aurell said, she received lots of help from others who had already made changes to reduce the garbage they generate.

Now people are turning to her for advice.

Here are some of her top tips:

Don't try to do everything at once

It can be discouraging to think you have to get rid of all plastic immediately, said Aurell, unless a person is "as obsessive" as she is.

Karin Aurell uses glass jars and ceramic canisters to store staples such as rice and flour. She says stores will give you a discount when you bring your own containers. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

There are three simple things she recommends that don't change a person's life much at all but which can make a big difference:

  1. Use a reusable coffee mug instead of disposable ones.
  2. Consider alternatives such as Soda Stream and tap water in a refillable bottle before buying a beverage in a plastic bottle.
  3. Bring your bags to the grocery store.

Find supportive vendors 

A quick trip around the grocery store will give you the impression there's not much you can buy that doesn't have plastic packaging — aside from produce and a couple of kinds of cheese.

But Aurell said one of the most interesting things she's learned is that many stores are perfectly willing to use packages you bring with you and some — especially market vendors — are willing to provide custom packaging.

She calls the pork vendor a couple of days ahead, and he'll wrap her order in wax paper.

The German baker gives her her bread in a paper bag.

Aurell says it's a lot easier to be plastic-free in summer, when local produce is available and you can also forage for plastic-free food, such as mushrooms. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

She takes her own containers to the fish market, the deli counter, even the grocery store salad bar. 

"Nobody has a problem with it," Aurell said. 

"I've been met with so much more acceptance than I expected."

Decide what you can't do without

Aurell said the biggest challenge was realizing it wasn't possible to avoid plastic entirely.

She made a list of things she wasn't willing to go without.

She now makes her own yogurt, ice cream, cereal, granola bars, windshield-washer fluid and cleaning products.

Aurell opted to make an exception and buy this plastic jug of methyl hydrate. She can use it to make three or four jugs worth of homemade winter windshield wash. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

She stopped buying chips and other packaged snacks, chocolate bars, fresh berries that aren't locally in season and frozen vegetables. She eats popcorn instead and buys some other snack alternatives that are sold in bulk. 

And she makes exceptions for plastic caps on glass bottles, stickers on fruit and vegetables and items she doesn't have to buy very often that are hard to replace, such as Thai curry paste.

Plan your shopping in advance

Aurell said she plans her shopping much more than she used to.

And she brings the "appropriate receptacles" with her.

"It almost means that I can't shop without planning ahead," she said.

"I'm taking it really far. I think it's a little much for a lot of people … but some of it's super easy."

Aurell uses beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap on her fruits and vegetables. She says it keeps avocado just as well. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

For example, she always has a couple of bags in her purse for produce and groceries, and she often carries a container for incidental needs, such as bringing home leftovers from a restaurant.

Be prepared to experiment

Aurell tried all kinds of shampoo bars and still hasn't found one she really likes.

For toothpaste, she's using a product she buys in bulk that looks and feels like regular toothpaste.

There are also recipes online to make just about any product you can think of.

"I think everybody has to find the place where they're comfortable," she said.

Aurell has experimented with making her own cleaning products. She cut up and dried horse chestnuts to make laundry soap. (Karin Aurell/Facebook)

Don't throw out your plastic

Aurell said it was never her intention to completely eliminate plastic from her life.

She still has plenty of cleaning products, for example, that haven't run out yet.

"The plastic in my house is valuable at this point."

She plans to use the plastic bags and containers she already has for as long as they hold up. 

With files from Information Morning Moncton


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