Countdown to Christmas: Eco-friendly advent calendar ideas

Christmas. Nearly only five weeks to go. How has that happened? Who knows what it’ll be like this year with the pandemic continuing to cause havoc. But there’s still loads you can do to make the time memorable for the right reasons. 

One of the earliest Christmas preparations to think about is getting your advent calendar sorted.

Growing notoriety of advent calendars

When I was little our family advent calendars were almost always Cadbury ones with tiny festive chocolates nestled in plastic trays behind each door. I’m certain they came shrink-wrapped in disposable plastic film. And every year come January we’d throw it all away without a thought.

Just think how many millions of advent calendars are bought every year in the UK alone. According to a 2019 YouGov poll, 49% of UK adults had their own advent calendars last year. With a population of around 50 million adults, that’s 25 million calendars. And that doesn’t even take into account the kids’ ones!

As advent calendars are often so cheap (around £1.50 for a Cadbury one), it’s no surprise that many children have their own to avoid squabbles. And multiple calendars per household can quickly lead to plastic overload.

Fancy premium calendars

But it’s not just inexpensive, disposable chocolate calendars in the frame here. Over the last five years, I’m sure you’ve noticed the single-use and throwaway calendar issue has escalated with the rise of specially curated, premium ones. Beauty, gin, candles, LEGO and even cheese. These days there’s an advent calendar for everything.

The contents of these high-end advent calendars tend to be real culprits for waste. The beauty ones are especially bad. They contain so many plastic tubes, pumps and lids.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the idea of a beauty calendar full of minis is tempting. What a great way to try out new products risk-free. It’s a very clever marketing tool because if you fall in love with a sample of a new cosmetic, chances are you’ll buy it again in full size, possibly more than once.

While these calendars are great for brands and money-making, inevitably they come at a high cost to the environment in terms of waste.

Resisting the urge to splurge on a high-end dopamine generator in calendar form will not only save you dosh but will also have a positive impact on our planet.

A better way

The good news is, it’s surprisingly easy to shed the commercial, single-use advent calendar once and for all.

The best way is to commit to a plastic-free re-usable calendar you can refill year after year. And, even better, pass it on to future generations.

We bought our Santa’s truck one shown in the picture about eight years ago online for about £25 (I can’t recall where from). I can see from searching that it’s made by someone called Gisela Graham but it seems to be out of stock everywhere now. 

It has 24 compartments – 12 on each side which are 4cm x 3cm x 5cm in size. It’s holding up pretty well, although if you look closely, you’ll see we lost a headlight along the way!

There are many other calendars out there. Some good ones are:

White Stuff felt calendar, £55

Card advent calendar house from JoJo Maman Bébé, £16

Card calendar from John Lewis, £20

Wooden Nordic Village calendar from Etsy, £29.99

The key thing to remember is that this calendar is for the long haul so the sturdier it is, the better (dodgy headlights, aside).

If you don’t want to invest costs-wise, you could buy one last disposable one this year and re-use it for the coming years.

Or if you have the time, why not get creative and make your own eco-friendly calendar from some cardboard? This could also double up as a great activity for the kids on a November lockdown weekend.

What to fill it with

Once you have your calendar “base” the next thing to think about is how to get planet-friendly fillings.

The most obvious option is to go for the sweet stuff. Some great eco-friendly and ethical brands include Ombar and also Montezuma’s (which also produces a plastic-free advent calendar). Or you could make your own chocolate, fudge or treats if you have the time and inclination.

Another option is to mix it up a bit with things like pound coins, eco-tealights or, for kids, you could make little figures out of homemade play-doh. There are loads of videos online to show you how.

What to go for really depends on the size of your calendar compartments and how much time and money you can spend. 

A more meaningful approach

If you fancy stepping it up further and creating a calendar with even more feel-good factor, you’ll just need some paper, scissors, pens/pencils and your imagination.

So, what am I talking about? Good deeds, of course! 24 different acts of kindness. Depending on how many are sharing the calendar, you’ll just need to divide up the number of days per person and work out how many secret good deeds everyone will need to think of. 

Some ideas are:

  • Smile and say hello to three people you don’t know today
  • Buy and donate an item to the supermarket food bank collection
  • Pick up three pieces of litter you see today and put them in a bin
  • Donate £5 to a charity of your choice
  • Buy the Big Issue

Or the good deeds could involve family members. Like cooking a meal and doing the washing up afterwards. Or something as simple as a hug.

I know it might sound a bit schmaltzy at first but I promise it’s fun and rewarding too. Not only will you save all the disposable plastic and packaging but you’ll also create a wider positive environmental and social impact. What’s not to like?

Another option

If you feel good-deeded out or want to try a different approach, another option is to make advent calendar fillings into clues for a December treasure hunt. You could break it down so there are daily clues leading to a weekly treat hidden somewhere in the house. 

A bit of fun and far more exciting and meaningful than scoffing a cheap Santa-shaped chocolate from a plasticky disposable calendar every morning. I bet your kids will agree.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this. Maybe you already do something similar each year? If so, please share in the comments below.

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