Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Category: Christmas

Advent Adventures

Woo Christmas will soon be here, along with all the traditions that come with it. For us the festive season begins on 1st December with the first opening of the advent calendar. We watch all our favourite Christmas movies while snuggled under a blanket and drinking hot chocolate. We alternate seeing our families on Christmas Day or Boxing Day – this year we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas Day and mine on Boxing Day, but regardless of where we are we always open up 1 present on Christmas Eve right before we go to bed. Christmas morning we tear into our stocking gifts and then go down for breakfast. When we’re with my family on Christmas Day I get to spend the morning cooking – which I love! After we eat we then get to open up our main presents… after that the traditions vary depending on which family we’re with.

So, tradition number 1 – the advent calendar… there are so many to choose from! There are super traditional ones that you open up to reveal an image; there are the good old chocolate ones that I always had as a child; these days you can even alcohol ones and we’ll almost anything you can imagine. This year I was immensely tempted to buy myself a Bomb Cosmetics bath bomb advent calendar, but all of these advent calendars are immensely wasteful. There’s loads of cardboard and often a plastic tray. Eventually my zero waste principles stopped me from buying the bath bomb advent calendar.

Does that mean our advent calendar tradition is to come to an end? Not at all! In fact there are a few ways of doing a zero waste advent.

Reusable Advent Calendar

As well as the cardboard and plastic advent calendars, many shops are now also starting to stock empty wooden advent calendars. You can fill them with so many different things but I’m planning on filling ours with sweets from a local old fashioned style sweet shop – the kind where you can go up to the counter and request a quarter of… in fact I normally go into the sweet shop (Sweet Alley in Biggleswade) with my own jars to be filled with candy goodness.

Earn a treat

How about heading out on a daily litter pick and reward each person with a treat for each item of rubbish they collect that day? This one has the benefit of cleaning up the streets and gives kids a chance to earn more than just 1 piece of chocolate a day.

If the little ones could do with a bit more of an academic boost the lovely people at education.com have provided a themed maths worksheet – why not give your kids a maths problem to solve each day before they get to have their advent treats? Simply grab some treats, download the worksheet and answer sheet and away you go. As this blog is all about zero waste and loving the environment, I have an ocean themed worksheet for you to download (worksheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3 and the answer sheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3_answers), however there are other themes and worksheets available through their website.

Christmas Bingo

When I was a kid my Mum and I would drive around looking for all the tacky and way over the top Christmas lights people had adorned their houses with. So, I thought it might be fun to turn if into a full on Advent event. The idea is you have a list of 25 Christmas themed items that you have to cross off as and when you spot them. However, spotting something, let’s say tinsel, for sale in a shop or in your own home doesn’t count, whereas spotting tinsel in someone else’s home would be fine. You can do this by yourself or even compete against friends and family to see who can cross off all the items first. Here are the ones we’ll be looking for this year:

  • Santa
  • Snowman
  • Reindeer
  • Mistletoe
  • Festive lights – ideally the OTT seizure inducing ones
  • Nativity scene
  • Star
  • Candy cane
  • Holly
  • Bells
  • Wreath
  • Gingerbread house/person
  • Elf
  • Stocking
  • Christmas tree (real or plastic)
  • Tinsel
  • Sleigh
  • Carol singers
  • Candle
  • Presents
  • Poinsettia
  • Mince Pies
  • Robin
  • Angel
  • Mittens

It’s only November but I can actually cross off the mince pies already!

What are your advent plans? Have you come up with another way of making the festivities zero waste? Let me know what you’re up to.

I recently attended a conference on the environmental impact of microplastics so be sure to come back next month to hear how it went and to get a break-down of the report.

Zero Waste Gift Guide

With Christmas just around the corner, there are so many wonderful gifts on the shelves of every shop you walk into. Unfortunately you can pretty much guarantee that those gifts will come in far too much packaging! Sadly, I don’t have the answers on this one – I’ve been at this a year now and I am still struggling with finding zero waste gift options. Ideally, we would spend all year lovingly making the perfect gift for everyone on our list, and they in turn would absolutely love and cherish it for all of time. The reality is that most handmade items are likely to be shoved to the back of the cupboard for all of time instead – we seem to place more value on the generic store-bought items we asked for than we do the items that a loved one has spent months preparing as a surprise for us. That’s not the case in the Hill household, but it definitely rings true for other members of the wider family, and it’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of in the past.

So, if you know someone who will appreciate a homemade product, then fantastic! There’s still plenty of time to whip up a little something for them. For everyone else on your list, here’s a quick (almost) zero waste gift guide:

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First up is the ecoffee cup – a reusable coffee cup with a difference! You don’t have to be a coffee fiend to enjoy these cups, in fact I’ll often be found at a coffee shop getting mine filled with hot chocolate this time of year. Every year 100 BILLION single-use coffee cups get sent to landfill. Carrying around a reusable not only cuts down on the waste going to landfill but most coffee shops will give you a discount for taking in your own cup. There are so many different types out there: metal, ceramic and sadly plastic, but what makes the ecoffee cup different is that it is made from bamboo with a silicon lid and sleeve, this means that should anything happen to the cup and it needs to be replaced then the lid and sleeve can be recycled (where facilities exist) and the cup itself can be composted. These cups are also available in so many amazing colours and designs – mine is purple but I’m so loving the new wooden effect designs and the William Morris collection is just gorgeous! A truly wonderful gift that will get a smile, help the planet and is easy on the wallet.

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By now you’ve probably heard about the plastic microfibres being released from our clothes in the wash and ending up in our oceans, destroying marine life. For a lot of items it’s easy enough to switch over to purely natural fibres, but workout clothing is something I’ve been struggling to find… until now! Enter BAM, a bamboo clothing store with collections for men and women. Normally when I look at fitness clothes using natural fibres, they’re all intended for yoga and don’t really stand up to a HIIT session. Now for some this wouldn’t be considered a perfect gift, more of an insult, but for any fitness fanatic you’ll be golden! Potentially pricey but e-vouchers are available if you’d like to send someone a contribution towards a new outfit rather than paying for the whole thing. They do have regular clothes available as well as sportswear, but I was just so thrilled at seeing a natural fibre designed to withstand a hardcore workout!!

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How about a magazine subscription? In fact, a number of magazines are now available as a digital subscription so you don’t have to worry about all those sheets of paper going into the recycling. Of course, the person you’re buying the subscription for will need to have a suitable device to view the content on, but these days I think most of us already do. It’s not just magazines, you could also gift an e-book to someone

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Something every zero-waster always needs more of: glass jars! Whether its going to be for jam, chutney, a fresh batch of body lotion, these jars are an absolute must in our house, yet there’s never enough! Okay, so it’s not the sexiest gift in the world, but it is an immensely useful gift that will keep on giving for decades to come. If the recipient is a zero waster then a few empty jars will be an absolutely fine gift, if they’re not then you’ll need to fill them first otherwise you’ll look like a total d**k come Christmas morning!

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The least zero waste option, but one of my favourites – BoroughBox is an absolute life-saver when it comes to gifts! There’s literally something for everyone, from cheese-making kits (that I was eyeing up for myself) to vegan picnic hampers, you’re bound to find the perfect gift for someone here. This wonderful site has actually saved me from having to buy a certain someone socks again this year! The Christmas pudding pic at the top was also from BoroughBox, click on the link to be taken to the product page.

Still need inspiration? See what little gems you’re able to unearth at your local charity shops – we’ve got quite a few here in Biggleswade, and some of the stuff for sale is actually brand new (in case the recipient is likely to turn their nose up at a charity shop gift). If you know someone who is an avid reader, you’ll most likely be able to find some pre-loved editions of books in a charity shop. We always get Paul’s grandparents an Oxfam unwrapped gift – you know, where you pay for a goat to go to a random African villiage – however, my only gripe with that is they send a card and things in the post, I’d much rather just put the money in the collection tin and then tell his grandparents which charity we gave the money to. I know they wouldn’t care if we did that, yet every year we end up still going with the unwrapped option – I’m determined to make this the year we break the habit!

There’s just one more, rather important, area that I haven’t mentioned yet – presents for little ones! Often the parents will be able to give you an idea of what they want/need. It’s almost impossible to get anything for them that will be zero waste. Best of luck finding something suitable for the miniature human(s) in your life! Just remember: most plastics that claim to be BPA-free instead contain BPS which has been shown to be just as bad, so do your research before hitting the shops, but always take your cue from the parents – if they’re happy to give their child any type of plastic then that’s fine, the last thing they want is a lecture about plastic, but if the parents prefer for their children to play with wooden toys then stick with that, even if you do think you’ve found a suitably safe plastic. If the parents haven’t given you any cues and they also haven’t come up with any suggestions for you, then the number 1 rule you MUST apply to buying a child a gift is to make sure you buy them something you secretly want to play with yourself!

Whatever gifts you end up giving, please don’t bother giving someone a store gift-card. You’re handing over a single-use plastic card and they’re unlikely to find something for the exact amount on the card so will have to add some of their own money towards any purchases, which has to be within a time-limit set by the store – and that’s all assuming you’ve got them a giftcard for somewhere they would normally like to shop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into shops for the first time only to spend a giftcard I’ve been given, ending up with stuff I didn’t need. Even if someone has said they want to save for X, from a particular shop, still just give them the money instead of getting the giftcard – it’s better for the planet, saves you trekking over to the shop and gives the recipient some leeway to change their mind. If you’re thinking of getting someone a giftcard because you don’t really know them/what they like that well, then the best present you can get them is a coffee – take them out to a coffee shop, or anywhere for that matter, and just spend some time with them, get to know them. Time spent together is so much more precious than handing over a bit of plastic.

Countdown to Christmas

Oh I do so love the festive season, it really is the most wonderful time of the year! From opening my advent calendar each day to hanging up my stocking for Santa (well, Paul) to fill with goodies… but, how do you maintain your favourite Christmas traditions when you’re zero waste?

Lets start with advent calendars. There are the traditional picture ones that every kid hates to get – you know the ones; they’re flat and you open each door and get just a nice picture – don’t even bother! Next up are the the chocolate ones that you’ll find in almost every shop you walk into at the moment – you get about as much chocolate in the whole thing as you do in a single bar and then you’re left with a large plastic tray encased in cardboard. Recently there has been an increase in alternative advent calendars –  last year I had a makeup one… but again LOADS of plastic and cardboard.

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There are some absolutely gorgeous reusable advent calendar options out there: On the years we have Christmas at our house I tend to put some chocolates into cotton drawstring pouches which I then hang on the tree… every day Paul and I then take a pouch each. It also means I don’t need to buy chocolate wrapped in foil to hang on the tree. You could also get some fabric paint to put little numbers on each pouch so you’re looking for a specific pouch rather than reaching for a random one. You could also do the numbers in different colours so each person is hunting for their own pouch on the correct day. On alternate years we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas day so we don’t usually bother putting a tree up… on those years we have a portable wooden advent calendar (bought for me by former colleagues), each drawer gets filled with chocolate, or sometimes something a little more special. The one I was given was already nicely decorated , although you can get plain ones that you can decorate yourself – great little project to keep kids (and big kids) busy on a rainy day! Hobbycraft have a range of plain wooden advent calendars available for under £20. Of course there are loads of pre-decorated ones available, ready for you to fill – prices vary considerably but a quick Google search will give you an idea of what you can get for your price range.

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You can fill the advent calendar with absolutely anything – jewellery happens to fit inside very well (I should be so lucky!), although chocolate is somewhat traditional, small and inexpensive. The main issue with chocolate though is the individual foil wrapping it comes in. My all-time favourite chocolate shop, Montezuma’s, has chocolates available in glass clip-top jars (as loved by zero-wasters the world over!!), you can take the chocolate from the jar, put them into your advent calendar(s) and then reuse the jar for some Christmassy chutney or something. If you’re anything like my husband though, you’ll not want to bother with the advent calendar part and would rather just eat the chocolate straight from the jar! Alternatively, you could make your own chocolate very easily (again, fun little project to do with the kids). How about making up a batch of fudge as well so you’re not having chocolate everyday? The Snaffling Pig Co. has a great range of pork crackling in different flavours, which are also available in clip-top jars (albeit plastic ones). They also do a crackling and beer gift set which I know would go down well with quite a few guys I know.

Every year I get tempted to buy Paul a beer advent calendar but then I see the price and quickly back away. It would be pretty easy to make one though for a lot less. I’d first take a large box that would otherwise be going in the recycling (I tend to buy a lot of Christmas presents online), next cut bottle sized holes in the lid, place a bottle in each hole (maybe do the odd decoy one with chocolate or something instead of beer) and then I’d stick sheets of newspaper to the box to cover the holes (the free newspaper that gets put through the door every week). So this one isn’t really a zero waste option but it is reusing 2 items (box and newspaper) that would normally go straight into the recycling bin.

Instead of having a physical item, how about doing a WhatsApp advent scavenger hunt? Everyone in the group gets sent a list of 12 items (snowman, reindeer, OTT house lights etc) and each time they come across one of the items whilst out and about they take a pic and send it to the rest of the group – whoever gets all 12 first wins a little prize perhaps? Or maybe you could have a prize for each category and decide amongst yourselves who took the best pic in that category.

Alright, so there you have a few ideas for ways you can do a mostly zero waste advent calendar. So, what about the stocking?

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First of all, how about making your own from old, worn out clothes? If you’re a knitter or crocheter you could always use up your scrap yarn to make an amazing, totally unique (and probably multi-coloured) stocking. The image above is a free stocking knitting pattern available on the Hobbycraft website. Failing that you can always buy one (just make sure you use the same one each year), and you can find ways of decorating and personalising it if you like. You could even go super old-school and use an actual sock!

Then comes the age-old question of what to put in it… Paul struggles with this even without us trying to avoid waste! Stocking filler gifts don’t have to be big, expensive things – save that for under the tree. So fruit is apparently traditional – the closest I ever got from my Mum was a Terry’s chocolate orange, but Paul’s Mum actually used to put a real satsuma in his stocking. Hankies are always useful for a zero waster, so I would suggest wrapping each thing in a hanky – perhaps a handful of nuts or any left-over chocolates, fudge or pork stratchings from the advent calendar? Bath bits like soap and bath bombs will always go down well, as will candles. If that’s a bit too girly, deodorant, pants and socks are always a staple in Paul’s stocking each year… I have no idea where they all keep disappearing to! Maybe this will be the last year I put those in his stocking, now that we’re trying to live zero waste. Anyway, to use a hanky as gift wrap just place the item in the middle of the hanky, tie the opposite corners together and then pop inside the stocking.

Of course you can put whatever you want inside a stocking or advent calendar, but please try to keep the 5 R’s in mind as you’re deciding what items to buy. I strongly recommend hitting local charity shops first and seeing what awesome bargains you can find before hitting the high street or online shops. The image at the very top is a photo of my dog posing with a little bone toy… someone I know had bought it for her daughter’s dog, but she didn’t like it at all, so rather than throw it away (which was her frst thought), she asked if she could give it to Grue, and he absolutely loved it! Yes, it was plastic so eventually has to be thrown away, but it is being thoroughly enjoyed first.

Best of luck with your own zero waste countdown to Christmas – please do let me know what you’re up to as you get ready for the big day!

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