Christmas is a time for celebration – but it’s also the most wasteful time of the year. According to the Sunday Post, waste production in the UK increases by 30% each Christmas. From reams of wrapping paper to unwanted Secret Santa presents hastily shoved into drawers, it’s likely we’re all guilty of being a bit wasteful. It’s also a difficult time of the year for many – the extra cost for already struggling families can lead to stress and debt, and Shelter estimates that 130,000 homeless children will spend Christmas in temporary lodgings.

To help cut down on festive waste this year and give ideas on how to give back this Christmas, we’ve put together our top tips for an eco-friendly and ethical holidays – and even if you only implement one or two of these ideas this year, you’ll still be helping to make a difference! 

Ideas for your company 

Forgo the company Secret Santa and do something for charity – Office Secret Santa can be a fun way to get into the festivities, but often recipients end up with a gift they probably didn’t want in the first place. This year at Allia, we’re taking part in The Giving Tree – a local Cambridge initiative where gifts are purchased for children who might otherwise go without. Schemes like this are a great way to spread the Secret Santa Christmas cheer (and reduce waste from unwanted gifts) – while doing something good for your community. If there’s nothing like this in your local area, Action for Children’s Secret Santa scheme is another way to donate whatever you can to a great cause.

Volunteering days – In 2017, it was estimated that 4,751 people slept rough across England on any given night, and as the temperatures drop in the run up to Christmas, sleeping rough only becomes more dangerous. At Allia, we implemented a staff voluntary day, and this year it focused on homelessness. Throughout the year, staff have used their day to volunteer for charities such as Wintercomfort and Jimmy’s Night Shelter, to help Cambridgeshire’s homeless community. Some staff based at our East London Future Business Centre helped to deep clean a church which opened as part of the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, providing homeless people with a safe place to stay. Volunteering is a great way to bring people together around causes which need extra support in the festive season – and in the case of homelessness, an important way to help break the social isolation that homeless people experience. 

Foodbank collections – The number of referrals to foodbanks in the lead up to Christmas is increasing each year. The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 420 foodbanks with more than 1,200 centres across the UK. They’re estimating that this could be their busiest December yet, so it’s a perfect time to help people who can’t afford food over the Christmas period. You can find your nearest collection centre here, so why not share their list of wanted items with your colleagues and add a few things to your shopping list? 

Ideas for your home 

Create your own Christmas decorations – Making your own decorations is not only a fun and personal way to make your home more festive, but also allows you to decorate in a more sustainable way. Shop bought Christmas decorations often come covered in glitter, which is made from tiny pieces of plastic and can’t be recycled, and the decorations themselves may not be made of sustainable materials. Making your own decorations allows you to avoid needless plastic and use eco-friendly alternatives. Disco Dust is a great way to get your glitter fix – the glitter is 100% biodegradable, derived from sustainable sources.   

Christmas cards – Creating your own Christmas cards is a great way to reuse materials and avoid buying cards made using unsustainable materials. You could also consider going paperless and creating an e-card to send to family and friends – many websites have readymade e-cards for you to personalise and use for free. Plenty of charities also create their own Christmas cards, so if DIY isn’t your thing, this is a great way to support a cause. 

Be cautious with your wrapping paper – In 2017 it was estimated that in the UK we would throw away 108 million rolls of wrapping paper. It’s important to remember that not all wrapping paper is recyclable – the general rule of thumb is that if it’s foil based, shiny or glittery, it can’t be recycled. This BBC article also suggests that if you scrunch it into a ball and it doesn’t stay that way, it can’t be recycled. You’re also advised to remove Sellotape and any ribbons as that ‘contaminates’ paper that otherwise might be fine. It’s best to check with your local authority – or why not consider alternatives! Wrapping paper made from recycled paper, that is itself 100% recyclable is becoming more popular, as are fabric wraps for gifts that be reused again and again. 

Buy social –  If you’re buying presents this year, consider social enterprises that help support businesses that have a social or environmental mission. Social Enterprise UK have put together a #BuySocial gift guide for different budgets, with lots of ideas of where you can buy social this Christmas.

And finally, why not unleash your creativity and try making your own gifts! Handmade presents are can be a good way to use recycled materials, avoid using lots of plastic and ultimately make the gift more personal. From candles to cakes, soaps to knitwear – there are thousands of ideas online with step-by-step guides for creating Christmas gifts. 

So, we hope you have a fun festive period! And in the new year, check out our blog about making one positive change for 2019, and hear some tips from Allia staff about theirs. Season’s Greetings!