Every Christmas in the UK millions of advent calendars are sold. A large majority of these come with a ridiculous amount of plastic packaging. So what can we do to buy more sustainable advent calendars?
The most sustainable option would be to get a reusable advent calendar that you can fill yourself. This way you can get joy from them year after year and it can even become part of your Christmas tradition.
The Range has a few really good options, which include a festive truck, train and a LED lit up Christmas scene.
Wayfair has an extensive range of over 150 calendars.
Next has the Melissa and Doug countdown to Christmas tree. This is not a traditional advent calendar, but a tree with magnetic baubles you add a bauble every day finally finishing the tree with the star on the top.
A lot of other retailers will also have their own offerings so it’s a good idea to have a look round. Alternatively, if you’re feeling creative you can find some ideas to make your own sustainable advent calendars here.
Now that you’ve got your sustainable advent calendar you have to fill it. Treats like chocolates are a good idea for some days perhaps, but wouldn’t it be more interesting to have other things in there as well. One day maybe a ticket to a pantomime or a voucher for a visit to Father Christmas. For adults maybe some miniature bottles of alcohol or even cheese. Or if you’re trying to get away from the materialistic side of Christmas, maybe a poem or nice saying. Keen cooks might like a recipe, you could even include specific ingredients on previous days. Or how about a photo each day and then maybe the display below, available from Amazon, as a Christmas present.
For other filling ideas here are some links to other articles that have good ideas.
With the Christmas season approaching it’s worth thinking about how we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas. Whilst for some it’s a religious festival, for others, it’s a chance to spend some much needed time with families. However, for most of us, it’s also a time of excess and waste. For example in the UK we will use roughly 40 million rolls of sticky tape, we will also throw away an equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper, 54 million platefuls of food and almost 100 million bin bags of packaging from toys and other presents according to research by onepoll.com. It is also estimated that there are one billion Christmas cards and between 6 and 8 million real Christmas trees sold.
Put all this together and it adds up to a huge amount of waste, a lot of it potentially unnecessary. So maybe if we can each tackle one or more of these issues individually collectively we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas.
Sticky Tape is not only non-recyclable, any residue on otherwise recyclable materials is very difficult to remove and may mean those materials become unrecyclable. One option is to use paper tape instead of plastic tape it might be more visible however when combined with paper wrapping paper and possible some ribbon or twine it can look very sophisticated and stylish. You can purchase these from the likes of Eco-Craft and Eco Vibe.
A large portion of the 108 million rolls of wrapping paper used in the UK at Christmas is non-recyclable. Any paper with glitter, foil or texture is generally not able to be recycled. It is, therefore, definitely worth checking that the wrapping paper you buy can be recycled. Another option is to pair brown paper tape with plain brown wrapping paper and then add some embellishments. This can also make the wrapping more personal.
The obvious solution to the massive amount of food wasted is to buy less. However, in reality, this is not always possible. With large family gatherings, it is very difficult to work out the exact amount of food required and it seems better to err on the side of caution and buy plenty. However, if you do have leftovers then there are other ways to deal with them than throwing them in the bin. If you have random food leftover and are unsure what to do with then a website such as Lovefoodhatewaste.com can help. It provides a comprehensive list of recipes and food ideas using leftovers. After Christmas, it is also likely that you want a few less calorific days and even the thought of leftovers is too much. In that case, a lot of food is freezable and can be stored until you get your appetite back for it.
One way to reduce packaging is to buy less presents, however, that is understandably often not realistic. What you can do is try and buy products that either have less packaging or where the packaging is recyclable. Another option is to purchase ethically sourced and packaged gifts from ethical online stores such as Natural Collection or Plastics Free. Another option is to give memories or experiences like a meal out, theme park visit or spa day Red Letter Days and Virgin Experience Days are two of the most well-known companies in this space. For children, an amazing gift could be the gift of cooking. Little Cooks Co is a home delivery food box company that is aimed at children from 3-10 providing amazing recipes for them to cook at home. For a list of ethical brands, you can also check out our brands’ page here.
With regards to Christmas cards, it is worth considering if it’s really necessary to send and give Christmas cards to everyone if we all sent just a few less it would really help. Another option is to post a digital Christmas message perhaps on social media or via a digital Christmas Card. You can then let those people know that the money saved you will be donating to charity. This way they still get your Christmas wishes and there is a benefit to the environment and your chosen charity. If you really feel like you have to send physical Christmas cards then it would be great to support a charity when you buy cards for charity has a comprehensive selection of Christmas cards that benefit different charities. It is also best to avoid cards with Glitter or embellishments as this makes it difficult or impossible to recycle.
Real or Fake that is a difficult question. On the one hand, we have a real tree that is used for a few weeks then destroyed, on the other hand, we have a fake tree that can be used for years, but is made from plastic which is nigh on impossible to recycle. I guess it’s a very personal choice. If you plan on using a fake tree for years to come then it could be environmentally the best solution. However, if you’re only going to use it for a few years then real would be best. If you do buy a real tree then try and get it sourced as locally as possible to reduce the carbon footprint and where possible have it recycled by the local council. Trees that go into and fill end up releasing a huge amount of CO2 emissions as they rot slowly. The best solution, if you have space would be to buy a potted Christmas tree that can go in the garden after Christmas and can then be reused year after year.
As you can see although Christmas is usually a great time of the year for spending time with family it is also a bad time of the year for the environment. However, if we all do a little bit then together we can make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas. I would also love your suggestion to make it a more ethical, sustainable Christmas for me.
Below are my top 5 most ethical supermarkets and online food companies. From organic-only supermarkets to supermarkets that help in the community.
Waitrose is a member of the John Lewis partnership and as such, it is owned by its employees(called partners). The majority of any profits are paid out in bonuses to these partners, which results in great customer service as the employees have a sense of ownership.
Environmentally they are working very hard at reducing plastic waste. See the below extract from their website.
‘Making sure our packaging works and is fit for purpose is just part of my job. The other part is ensuring we meet our targets for making it as environmentally friendly as we can. We’ve pledged that by 2023, all own-label packaging will be widely recycled, reusable or home compostable, so we’re working with our suppliers and packaging manufacturers, looking at alternatives to plastics,’ says Karen Graley, Partner and packaging manager.
In addition, they’ve launched the Plan Plastic Fund with £1 million in grants available to projects aimed at reducing plastic waste.
Waitrose is also very big with regards to the environment and sustainability. They have a targeted plan to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050. you can see the timeline of what they are doing to get there here. They also aim to source all off their products such as Soya, palm oil, fish and cotton amongst others. In fact, they publish an annual corporate responsibility report, which is accessible here.
Planet Organic is a small chain of London based stores that sell exclusively organic products. However, despite being London based they offer shipping to many parts of the UK. As a completely organic store, bar wild-caught game and sustainably sourced wild fish which are unable to be certified, they can sell loose packaged products that you can be 100% confident is organic as there is no risk of cross-contamination. They also aim to be as natural as possible below is a statement from their website on this.
No to processed foods, no to hydrogenated fats and a big, fat no to GM. We do not only sell organic packaged foods, although there are minimum product standards that apply to every single product that we sell. We have never sold anything that contained artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours, flavours or anything else. Likewise we have never sold foods filled with hydrogenated fats, and we have always said a big NO to GMO. We continue to avoid all GM crops, as well as all meat from animals that have been fed GMO.
They are also trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible as you can read below.
It’s not always easy being green. We were disappointed in the late Nineties that our cargo bike delivery service didn’t take off. We have struggled so many times to donate food waste to London shelters, and we deal with different recycling restrictions in each of the London Boroughs that we have stores in. However, over the years there have been some marvellous successes.
We said goodbye to plastic bags years ago, and use fully recycled paper bags for all your grocery shopping. We use food containers made from bagasse, a sugar cane waste material in our café’s, and to be honest got a bit too excited when we found the first compostable take-away coffee cup lid. It’s the little things…
And it’s not just what we do. Encouraging our suppliers to move towards re-usable delivery boxes saves around 10 bales of compressed cardboard a day, while our sales of Life Water, a drop for drop not-for profit organisation, have so far provided clean-drinking water to 1200 people as part of the Gopavaram Community Well Project in Andra Pradesh.
Wholefoods, like Planet Organic is a chain of London based shops. Unlike Planet Organic it is part of a much larger USA chain, which has recently been bought by Amazon. They have high standards and try to minimize packaging and sourced as sustainably as possible. They are very good with animal welfare standards and sustainable fishing. Additionally, they support lots of up and coming artisan brands. For a comprehensive list of all the standards, they adhere to click here. You can’t order directly online with them, but you can order their products via Amazon Fresh.
Ocado is the biggest online-only supermarket in the UK. They provide a vast array of over 60,000 products including many organic and vegan options. As they are online-only it avoids a lot of waste. The following extract is from their corporate site.
In 2018 just 0.029% of food as a percentage of total sales was wasted. We’re committed to ensuring no food goes into landfill; inedible food is sent to anaerobic digestion, and edible food is redistributed. We redistributed 1,721 tonnes of food surplus in FY18, with over 90 tonnes of fresh and ambient food surplus donated to food banks and charities through our Donate Food with Ocado scheme. Since the scheme launched in December 2014, we’ve donated over 180 tonnes of food, demonstrating our commitment to strengthening food partnerships in the past 12 months. We contributed a total of £18,000 to support the Courtauld 2025 Commitment, a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system – from producer to consumer – to strive for more sustainable food and drink consumption.
One of the unfortunate things is that they use plastic carrier bags in their delivery system. However as you can see fom the extract below they do this a sustainably as possible.
Our customers’ shopping makes its journey to homes across the UK in crates, each lined with three single-use carrier bags. Crates move around our automated, temperature-controlled Customer Fulfillment Centres, with items added along the way.
Carrier bags segregate and protect goods from damage during the picking process. They allow us to separate potentially hazardous products from edible ones, complying with UK and EU legislation. They also allow our Customer Service Team Members to safely carry groceries into our customers’ homes.
Carrier bags are currently an integral part of our operation. We continue to research and trial alternative bag materials and containers, although none so far have proven to be as efficient or as cost-effective. With this in mind, we have launched several initiatives to combat plastic bag littering and unnecessary waste.
Recycling programme Since 2007, when delivering shopping our Customer Service Team Members have been asking customers to hand back used carrier bags to be recycled into new Ocado bags. This includes carrier bags from other retailers, which is one of the reasons why our carrier bags are grey. The muted colour means we don’t have to bleach the raw plastic. 87% of bags are returned for recycling.
Our recycling programme is carried out here in the UK, rather than China, where the bulk of plastics are currently recycled. We are satisfied that this keeps “supply chain miles” and carbon emissions to a minimum.
As you can see they are trying their best to minimise waste and they do eliminate a lot of this by not having large power-hungry physical stores where food is wasted at a local level.
The Co-Op is a member-owned company. It costs £1 to join and that gives you an equal vote with other members on how it’s run. They do a lot of work in local communities 1% of purchases of Co-Op branded product is spent on local causes. In the last year, this amounted to £17million. As well as their charitable donations they are also trying to be as sustainable and ethical as possible.
They’re changing the way their products are packaged replacing plastic and polystyrene with cardboard and foil. They’re also rolling out compostable carrier bags.
They give food about to go out of date to local charities as per their policy below.
None of us can afford to throw away good food. That’s why our stores give products that are going out of date to local community groups at the end of each day to prevent food waste, so far we’ve given away over 3m meals and counting.
In addition to the top 5 most ethical supermarkets listed above below are two more food delivery options that might be of interest.
Approved Food, is slightly different to the other companies here. It’s a clearance house of near or just past best before items that would otherwise end up in landfill. You can buy big name brands at extremely low prices, with the knowledge that those products have been saved from landfill. As these are surplus products, availability changes on a daily basis.
Food Box companies
If you’re just after food for a special event or dinner please have a look at an earlier article detailing the most ethical food box companies. You can find the article here.
I appreciate any feedback and would like to know who makes your list of the top 5 most ethical supermarkets.
It is extremely difficult to determine what brands are actually cruelty-free and to a large extent, it also depends on what level you, as an individual are satisfied.
For example, a brand that itself is cruelty-free might belong to a parent organisation that has other brands that are tested on animals. For example, Schmidt’s Naturals is a personal care brand that on the face of it is ethical and cruelty-free. However, it has recently purchased by conglomerate Unilever. Unilever in itself has hundreds of brands, many of which aren’t cruelty-free. So would you still consider Schmidt’s a cruelty-free brand or would you consider it a sell-out?
Other brands considered cruelty-free might not have tested in animals for products on sale in the UK. However, in other countries such as China animal testing is currently still a legal requirement, although China is in the process of changing that requirement. This means a company can claim to be cruelty-free in the UK, but if it is selling in China it’s likely those products have been tested on animals. As a consequence, there are some companies that refuse to sell to China. Innovaderma, a relatively new, but up and coming company, for example, has vowed not to sell any of its beauty brands, Skinny Tan, Roots Double Effect and Charles and Lee in China whilst the law requiring animal testing is in place.
Cruelty Free International is an organisation that certifies companies that are proven to be cruelty-free. One of the good things is that it quickly allows you to search for a brand and see if it meets their requirements. They also state when a brand has a parent company that is not certified cruelty-free. It is definitely worth checking out their database here.
In conclusion, it is worth researching brands you might be interested in to determine how cruelty-free they actually are.
The war on plastic is, potentially, one of the most important fights we have at the moment. The amount of plastic in our environment is causing real problems that are only getting worse.
In a recent BBC documentary, some worrying facts were revealed. Firstly collectively in our households, there are 19,500,000,000 pieces of single-use plastic. This ranges from milk cartons to shampoo bottles and butter tubs to toothbrushes. Secondly, every minute of every day a truckload of plastic is finding its way into our oceans. A large part of these are microplastics which end up in the food chain poisoning the environment. Once in our oceans, these plastics take hundreds of years to breakdown. Finally, a lot of waste we believe is being recycled ends up in waste dumps in poor, developing nations. This is not what we expect when we put our waste in the recycling bin.
In general, society is cottoning on to the fact that we need to reduce our plastic consumption and governments and corporations are starting to take action. For example, the UK government has introduced a charge on single-use plastic bags which has greatly reduced the amount used in fact sales have fallen by 86 percent since the 5p charge was introduced. Seven major retailers issued 7.6 billion single-use bags in 2014 but that figure was down to just over a billion in 2017-18, estimates suggest.
However, even with this recent focus by the government and companies there remains much more that needs to be done.
So what can we, on a personal level, do to fight the war on plastic and to try and improve the situation?
Firstly we can avoid using single-use plastics such as plastic bags with our shopping and bottled water. Even with the 5p charge, 1billion bags are still used each year. We should try and get used to walking around with reusable bags. There are plenty of options out there like foldable bags from Sass and Belle or bags from Rex London which are made from recycled plastic. Along a similar theme are Wyatt and Jack who create bags from recycled deckchair canvas, broken inflatables, and old bouncy castles. They have a project called inflatable amnesty whereby you can send in old, broken inflatables so they can turn them into bags. This is much more environmentally friendly than putting them in landfill.
Bottled water is another big contributor to the waste going into our oceans. the average UK adult uses 150 plastic water bottles each year. In total, 7.7 billion single-use plastic bottles are bought each year and it is estimated that 44% of these are not recycled. A simple solution is to buy a reusable water bottle and to refill from the tap. Not only is it better for the environment it is also a lot cheaper in the long run (after the initial investment in a reusable bottle).
The above two things are relatively easy to accomplish without much change to your everyday lifestyle. Should you wish to do even more then there are more drastic options. Companies such as Plastics Free and Eco Vibe offer a wide variety of everyday products, with one difference, they don’t come with plastic packaging. From washing up soap bars and coconut husk scrubbers to shampoo bars and beeswax food wraps, this is a twist on everyday items, done in an environmentally friendly way.
You could also donate to the Ocean Cleanup Project, this charity aims to clean up the plastics in our Oceans by using innovative machines. They have also created a new device called the interceptor which is placed into rivers and aims to catch plastics before they make it into the ocean.
If we all try and make a few little changes in our daily life then hopefully, together we can win the war on plastic.
Getting food delivered directly to your door is a growing trend. It used to be home deliveries of supermarket staples from the likes of Ocado and Tesco. However more recently there has been a growing trend for the delivery of high quality, single meal boxes from the likes of Hellofresh and Boxfresh. Now countless others have joined the throng, but how ecofriendly are these boxes? There’s a reasonably large carbon footprint to send single meals by courier and some boxes come with lots of individually plastic-wrapped ingredients. However, I believe there are some good ones out there.
Below are my top 5 most ethical recipe boxes.
Riverford provides a wide variety of meals from vegan and vegetarian to meals with ethically sourced line-caught fish. their own ethical statement is “To give a fair deal to farmers, customers, staff and the environment”. The majority of their produce is homegrown in the UK. However, as they point out it can be more environmentally friendly to use trucked in Spanish tomatoes than UK tomatoes that have to be grown under glass with heat and lamps. They are always mindful of the environmental impact. Their packaging policy is to be as environmentally friendly as well. Their main boxes are designed to be used up to 10 times and customers are asked to return it to the company with their next delivery. the rest of the packaging is designed to be as recyclable as possible.
Abel and Cole have been providing Fruit and Veg boxes for over 30 years. More recently they have branched out into recipe boxes. The good points are that 100% of ingredients used are either organic or wild. The majority of packaging is locally recyclable, however, if your local council doesn’t accept certain packaging for recycling you can return it with your next delivery and the Abel and Cole team will recycle for you. One issue that vegans might have is that they use a wool product to insulate and regulate the temperature within the boxes.
Mindful chef, established in 2015 is very similar in its ethical stance as the first two companies with regards, to organic, natural food and it’s welfare standards. Mindful Chefs packaging policy is also very similar. Where it does stand out is in it’s “One feeds two” program. With this program, they provide one free school meal to some of the poorest children in the world. So by buying a recipe box from Mindful Chef, you are also, in essence, making a charity donation.
Fish for Thought does what it says on the tin. It delivers ethically sourced fresh fish directly to your door. They are the only Online Seafood business with Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC). They also have fully recyclable packaging and support various sustainability programs.
Little Cooks Co is a recipe box company that specializes in kits to help get children cooking and eating organic, healthy, nutritional food. The kits are aimed at children from 3 to 10 years old. They don’t include refined flours or sugars in the kits and the packaging is 100% recyclable. However perhaps the most ethical part of the company is its support of magic breakfast, this charity provides breakfast to some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable children. For each kit sold Little Cooks will provide breakfast for one child.
As you can see amongst the plethora and evergrowing companies that supply recipe boxes and food direct to your home there are some gems that are trying to do this in an ethical way. You have seen my top 5 most ethical recipe boxes and I would appreciate any I might have missed in the comment section.
One of the most environmentally friendly things you can do is to reuse/recycle products.
You can do this in by selling unwanted goods on sites such as Ebay, Music Magpie, SHpock, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, etc. This stops products going into landfill and you might even earn some money. Alternatively if this seems too time consuming then charity shops are always looking for donations.
You can also look to buy second hand items through these channels, this dramatically reduces the carbon footprint compared to new products. In addition to the sites above some charity shops have online shops or ebay stores. Not only is this environmentally friendly, but you can also put some much needed cash into these charities coffers. Oxfam has it’s own online store for second hand goods. Most other charity shops operate their own ebay stores.
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