Last minute Christmas alternatives
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Date: 16 December, 2004



'According to Waste Online we could use an extra 750 million bottles and glass containers and 500 million drinks cans over the Christmas period.'

Suzanne Elvidge looks at ethical alternatives to Christmas cards, gifts, decorations and food.

According to Friends of the Earth we will send around a billion Christmas cards this year. This represents a huge amount of paper, print resources and delivery costs, just to wind up in the bin after Twelfth Night. Instead, why not save paper and everything else and send a Christmas ecard.

Or try:

Friends of the Earth - cards
Conservation International ecards
Christian ecards
Google search and give the money saved to your favourite good cause?

Hand made cards

If you’re feeling creative, there’s nothing like a hand-made card (remember how chuffed your Mum was when you gave her that sticky infant school creation dripping with Copydex and glitter?).

If you can paint or draw, you can tailor cards to the recipient. If art is not your forte, use photographs, fabric or old Christmas cards (you can make new cards out of old cards by trimming the fronts neatly and gluing them onto folded white card). You can even make your own envelopes.

You can also use your computer to make Christmas cards.

Recycling cards

Once you’ve got your cards, there has to be a better way of getting rid of them than just putting them in the bin. Throughout January 2005, Tescos and WH Smith will be collecting cards for recycling on behalf of The Woodland Trust, in collaboration with Cleanaway. Last year, this campaign recycled 40 million Christmas cards. Keep any eye out for other outlets recycling cards, and your local council might do this too.

You can recycle cards yourself by using the fronts to make gift tags or cards and the backs as shopping lists, notes etc. You can even recycle the envelopes using recycling labels, or shred them up and compost them, but collect the stamps for charity first!

Christmas trees

Every year in the UK, we buy seven million Christmas trees and most of these end up in landfills. So, in 2004, why not think about using a live tree that you can plant in your garden afterwards. After you’ve finished planted it out, you can even decorate it for the wildlife in your back garden.

Another alternative is to make your own tree. Or, at the very least, make sure that you get your tree shredded for mulch (your local council will usually do this — see for contact details.


To avoid waste (and put your Blue Peter skills to good use), make your Christmas tree ornaments out of recycled stuff, make edible tree decorations or buy good quality decorations that you can use from year to year, preferably from a fair trade or charity source.

Make your own house decorations too — make an Advent wreath; a holly wreath for your door ); a wreath for the birds in the garden, and make paper chains and other paper decorations.

Food & drink

According to Waste Online we could use an extra 750 million bottles and glass containers and 500 million drinks cans over the Christmas period. Ways to reduce this include buying drinks in larger containers rather than a lot of small ones, and recycling as much as you can.

Rather than the traditional turkey, why not consider an alternative? Perhaps a vegetarian or vegan lunch (the turkey would appreciate it). Alternatively, look at international Christmas menus or help out with someone else’s Christmas dinner.

You can get fair trade Christmas cakes and puddings from Traidcraft and Oxfam, and a fair trade chocolate cake from the Co-op and Divine does a fair trade chocolate Advent Calendar.

While you’re having a Christmas drink, why not make it one that helps someone else or helps the environment? There is a wide range of Fair Trade wines available now as well as organic wines, beers and spirits. In fact, why not go completely organic this Christmas? A Lot of Organics provides links to just about everything you can think of.


What Christmas would be complete without Santa?! For an alternative look at Santa, see 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, NASA-style. Track Santa on the NASA and NORAD websites. ). And finally, don’t forget to have fun.

Ethical alternative Christmas presents

We all know that there is a lot more to Christmas than the presents but they are now an unavoidable (and the eternally five year old part of me says a rather fun) part of the Western Christmas. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to duck out of the commercialisation and make this an alternative Christmas.

Ethical presents

Some gifts can mean as much to the person you buy them from as to the person that you buy them for. Think about buying Fair Trade gifts, gifts from a favourite charity, or gifts from the developing world.

Whatever you buy, if you buy it online via the UshopUgive gateway the retailers will give a donation to charity, often a percentage of what you spend (what an excuse to spend…).

What about shopping organic? Or buying composters to compost all those spare bits of Brussels sprouts and food and housing for the wildlife. Maybe buy garden centre vouchers to brighten up the plot in the Spring.

Recycling is a good thing to do—but almost as important is buying recycled goods, both for their own ethical value and to develop the market for recycled goods.

Buy something for someone else

I know that’s what buying presents is all about, but what I mean is buy something for someone else on behalf of someone else… oh, the websites explain it all so much better! Christian Aid will send a gift to help someone overseas and sent you a voucher to give to your recipient. Oxfam Unwrapped has a similar scheme as does World Vision, which has everything from a mosquito net for a fiver to a school for £4800!

Make something

There is something about a homemade gift — it shows that the person giving it to you has put more thought in than just a dash round the supermarket. There are lots of things to make as Christmas gifts that really aren’t too hard to do, but look impressive.

For example:

Spend nothing

I know that sounds flippant, but here in the so-called developed world we have a lot of ‘stuff’ but less and less personal contact. Here are a few ideas that don’t cost anything in cash, but are as expensive as you can get in real terms:

  • Free up a carer for an afternoon or an evening—sit with their children, dogs, elderly aunts, precious jewellery or whatever keeps them at home
  • Write something personal—a story, poem, favourite family secret recipe
  • Take someone somewhere, like a Christmas service
  • Give a book of vouchers for your time

Wrapping presents

According to Waste Online, over Christmas we user around as much as 83 square km of wrapping paper, which is enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey!

I have to admit, half the fun is the unwrapping (my cats seem to think this too) so I’m not necessarily suggesting you don’t wrap presents up, but think about using alternatives, like recycled paper, wrap one gift in another, like a silk scarf, save good bits of paper to use again (just like your mother did), and recycle any paper that you can’t use again. This is made even easier if you use string, ribbon or wool rather than sticky tape. Last year’s Christmas cards made ideal gift labels.

Or you can give presents that don’t need wrapping:

Recycling unwanted presents

Someone will always buy you something you don’t like, don’t need or already have one of. However, someone out there will want it, however weird it is. Give it to a charity shop or sell it on eBay and donate the money to your favourite charity.

Donate to Christmas appeal



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