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14th Dec 2022 5:49pm News

ACT's Ten Days of Citizenship-mas

We’ve put our heads together at ACT to think of some simple things we can all do over the holiday period to make a difference.

As the end of term approaches, we are all looking forward to a well-earned break and a chance to enjoy time with friends and family. 

Many of us celebrating Christmas this year will be considering the increased cost of living, fuel prices and the environment. Did you know that: 

  • Around 30% more waste is generated at this time of year…
  • Around a billion Christmas cards are thrown away each year – and it takes 33 million trees to make them…
  • An estimated 50,000 trees are cut down to make wrapping paper for presents… 
  • 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our environment – the equivalent of one bin lorry every minute! 

With this in mind – and always promoting taking action in and out of schools – we’ve put our heads together at ACT to think of some simple things we can all do over the holiday period to make a difference. So here’s our Ten Days of Citizenship-mas countdown… We hope you enjoy it and find some of the tips helpful over the festive period.

From all of us here at ACT, have a safe, restful break. Thank you for all your excellent Citizenship work over the past year and we look forward to seeing you again in 2023.

Day 1: Christmas cards

While sending and receiving cards is a wonderful tradition that brings joy to many, the effect on the environment is huge. To limit this, why not:

  • Send virtual cards instead of physical cards (you’ll also save money on postage). 
  • Try to buy cards printed on FSC-certified, recycled paper. Avoid cards with glitter or foil, as these cannot be recycled. 
  • Make your own cards using recycled paper – a great project for any young people in the household waiting for Santa! 
  • Recycle your cards after the festivities. Remember to remove any accessories like ribbon or sequins before recycling. 

Day 2: The Christmas tree

A beautifully decorated tree is a focal point of most homes at Christmas. But are real or artificial trees best for the environment? Well, it depends how long you keep the artificial tree – to have a lower environmental impact than a real tree, you need to use it for ten years. If this sounds like something you would be happy to do, then it could be the way forward. 

However, if you like to have a real Christmas tree: 

  • Try to find one that is certified as Grown in Britain to ensure it comes from a sustainable resource. 
  • Consider renting a tree – pick one, use it for the Christmas period, then return it for replanting. This is a great way to reuse trees and reduce dead tree waste.
  • Recycle your tree after Christmas – some local councils and charities will collect for a small donation.

Day 3: Decorations

Decorating the house and making it look festive is a long tradition, but what decorations do you use and what do you do with them afterwards?

  • Switch to using LED lights on your Christmas tree – you’ll be using less energy. Make sure you switch them off at night!
  • Avoid single-use decorations. Why not get crafty and make some homemade decorations instead?
  • Bored of your colour theme or style and want some new decorations? Offer your old ones to people on local social media groups or to a local charity. Other people will be grateful for them.

Day 4: Gifts

Gifts seem to take over at Christmas time. Perhaps this year more than ever it is important that family and friends value our presence more than our presents…

There are a range of things we can do to be more sustainable with our gift-giving:

  • A homemade gift is unique, thoughtful and can also be low cost. You could make preserves or knit a pair of socks or a scarf.
  • Consider giving a membership to a charity or a wildlife trust. Whether you give your in-laws membership to English Heritage or buy a goat from Oxfam for Auntie Ellie who has everything, a charity membership could solve gift dilemmas for you and do good at the same time.
  • Why not give eco-friendly gifts to family and friends? It could be something like a reusable coffee cup, reusable make-up remover wipes, or a solid shampoo bar that will help others make sustainable lifestyle choices.
  • Have you thought about buying preloved toys, or a toy subscription? How about buying wooden toys rather than plastic? There are a range of small changes that make a big difference.
  • Do you know someone who loves to read? Give them a subscription to a digital publication.
  • If you receive any unwanted gifts, take them to a charity shop after Christmas so they can be of benefit to others.

Day 5: Wrapping

Wrapping paper causes lots of waste to enter the environment each Christmas. In fact, consumers in the UK use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year, and some estimates suggest that 40 million rolls of sticky tape are used!

What can we do to help address the issues raised by wrapping?

  • Buy wrapping paper that comes with the FSC-certified logo and is recycled and recyclable. Don’t use paper that has a high plastic content or is covered in glitter and foil, as it can’t be recycled.
  • Choose paper that isn’t wrapped in film to reduce plastic waste.
  • Get crafty and print your own paper designs on brown paper – another idea for younger people waiting for the main event!
  • Non-plastic sticky tape that can be composted is available as an alternative to traditional sticky tape.
  • Remember accessories can be full of plastic too, so think about using natural cotton ribbons, fabric bows and string.
  • Consider buying reusable material wrapping and material wrapping bags that can be used again and again.

Day 6: The Christmas do

Christmas is a time to see friends and celebrate, and most people enjoy dressing up for the event. However, each year an estimated 336,000 tonnes of used clothing is thrown away by people living in the UK. 

This year, why not make some different decisions about your party outfit?

  • Choose the sustainable option and try to refashion clothes that you already own.
  • Add some well-chosen accessories to change your outfit.
  • Consider going for a vintage outfit – visit charity and vintage shops to find a stylish bargain.
  • Set up a swap and share session with friends and colleagues, where you can create a new outfit without spending a penny or generating any waste.

Day 7: Christmas crackers

Traditional Christmas crackers – laden with glitter and filled with throwaway plastic gifts – are not great for the environment. However, there are a few options to keep the tradition and reduce the waste:

  • Make your own Christmas crackers using FSC-certified, recyclable paper and paper ties.
  • When buying crackers, look for the FSC symbol and check the materials are recyclable and, if possible, made from recycled paper.
  • Look for material crackers that you can use year after year and personalise for your friends and family.

Day 8: Christmas food

Christmas certainly seems like the time to enjoy treats and food with friends. However, this means increased packaging and rising food waste. 

Seven out of ten people readily admit to buying far more food than they need at Christmas time. In 2014, research by Unilever suggested that 4.2 million Christmas dinners were wasted in the UK. This would mean throwing away 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 portions of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.9 million carrots and 11.3 million roast potatoes… This is the equivalent of a whole plateful of food per household going to waste on Christmas Day (along with at least another plateful in the days immediately after) – 54 million platefuls of food discarded over the period!

What can we all do to prevent this?

  • Plan menus carefully and shop with a list to prevent overbuying and unnecessary waste.
  • If you are left with too much food, consider using websites like Olio to see if others can benefit from your extras.
  • Local homeless shelters and charities often accept food donations for their services over Christmas.

Day 9: Christmas drinks

Along with our enjoyment of food over the festive period comes an enjoyment of extra drinks. Whether these are alcoholic or non-alcoholic, they bring additional waste. 

Over the festive period, retailers sell as many as 500 million canned drinks more than usual. Recycling just one of these aluminium cans saves enough energy to run a set of Christmas tree lights for two hours or to power a vacuum cleaner for an hour. Similarly, 13,350 tonnes of glass is binned during December and January each year, despite the availability of bottle banks and widespread collection for recycling. Every tonne of glass that is recycled prevents the release of approximately 246 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

This Christmas, make sure you recycle as much drink packaging as possible:

  • Wash out bottles and keep caps on.
  • Push any straws into pouches.
  • To save space, squash cans and plastic bottles.
  • If you are short of recycling space, remember that most supermarkets have recycling bins. Drop off glass bottles when you go to do your shopping.

Day 10: Give the gift of time

The lead-up to Christmas is always very busy, which makes us more aware than ever of the importance of time. Why not consider offering the gift of time this Christmas?

  • A stocking filler that says you owe someone a bedtime story.
  • An IOU for cooking dinner for a friend or loved one.
  • Volunteering for a local organisation over the Christmas period and, if you enjoy it, beyond.
  • Having a cup of tea and a chat with a neighbour who seems lonely. Isolation increases for many over the Christmas period.

We hope this inspires you. Have a great Ten Days of Citizenship-mas!