zero waste advent calendars

Filed in Blog by on November 24, 2008 38 Comments
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zero waste advent calendarOn to the second part of our zero waste Christmas series and today we’re going to look at Advent calendars.
Last week we talked about crackers and some of you shared some fabulous ideas! I’m hoping you will all share your wonderful suggestions for rubbish-free advent calendars too.

As a child, my brother and I had the sane advent calendar every year. On twelfth night, as we put away the decorations, we carefully closed the doors on our calendar for another year. Even though it was the same calendar, the magic was the same every year and I loved opening those doors to look at the picture behind. To me, as a child it was a different calendar and I seldom remembered what was behind each door.

Nowadays, it seems the manufacturers are convinced a nugget of chocolate is the way to start the day for our kids. Many advent calendars are a throw-away disposable item that come with plastic moulding to keep the chocolates in place and are shrink wrapped in plastic.

Cheap and cheerful, they provide an instant ‘hit’ in the form of sugar, bad fats and flavourings. In many cases, the avent calendars you find for a couple of pounds in the supermarket aisles are made with chocolate that involves child labour and using dangerous chemicals and tools. Geeeh, am I sounding like a scrooge yet?

zero waste alternatives

i) Green and Blacks are selling a ‘tower block’ advent calendar made from organic cotton with a Green and Black’s miniature bar for each pocket.

green and blacks advent calendar

ii) Urchin sell a wooden advent calendar. It is a small box of drawers into which you can place a small treat for each day.
wooden advent calendar from Urchin

iii) Letterbox sell a ‘Nativity advent calendar’ with 24 velcro backed characters – the holy family, wise men, shepherds, animals, stars and trees. Each day one is taken from its pocket to build up the nativity scene.
Grandma Green provided a lovely DIY version last year. She bought a similar wall hanging and bought a small wooden decoration for each pocket that was hung on our ‘gratitude tree’  – more on the tree another time.
letterbox nativity advent calendar

iv) For an original idea consider using an advent spiral from Myriad. The advent spiral is a rainbow-coloured, 24 hole 8 ornament cut from solid alder wood. Add a candle or decoration each day in the countdown to Christmas, or move a single candle inwards each day for a meaningful ritual.
advent spiral from myriad

v) Our family tradition is something I made when Little Miss Green was two. It’s a length of midnight blue ribbon with 24 gold stars on it. I made a small angel from sheeps wool and every night the angel moves up her ribbon to the next star. It’s lovely for small children because it is so visual and they can see how far the angel has to go to reach the top. LMG still loves our angel 🙂

I can’t wait to hear your ideas for zero waste advent calendars! please add them to the comments below.

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (38)

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  1. Sam says:

    I love these advent calenders, but we already have 3 😉 We have a quilted pocket one – which I might try to adapt to include the nativity. We also have a wooden drawer one, which I try to fill with little notes, suggesting activities for each day. eg. sing a carol, make a decoration.
    We also decorate a huge piece of mountboard (the same piece, repainted each year!), and usually I attach (cheap, foil wrapped) chocolates for the boys. I need to come up with a new cunning plan for that.
    I always used to light an advent candle, so I really want the Myriad one. Maybe next year…(or is 4 to many, lol)

  2. We’ve got the velcro one – it’s gorgeous and use it every year It was little J’s first ever Christmas present from my mum, seven years ago now. I can’t believe how time’s flown. 😀 x

  3. Poppy says:

    We do have a pocket version, but grandparents and well meaning Aunties and Uncles usually buy J one or more of the dreaded plastic versions which have little to do with Christmas and a lot to do with Cartoon Network or the latest BBC hit 🙁

  4. We have a fabric one where I used to get little gifts – some were sweets/chocolate but some were toys, some were notes promising a trip to the cinema, or something.

    But we have well meaning relatives who delight in sending the kids the chocolate variety with the loads of waste. *sigh* Maybe I should send the rubbish back to them?

  5. esther says:

    I don(t have any ideas, because in France (and Holland) we only started seeing those things a few years ago and I never really bought one…but your ideas do give me ideas and I might just “steal” the green and blacks calendar and make one myself…

  6. Like Esther, we don’t really have them. I mean, I know people in the U.S. use them, but I never have.

    I’m more zero-waste at Christmas than I thought…we don’t have crackers or advent calendars! lol

  7. Deb from Boston says:

    I got an advent idea a few years ago from a magazine that became an instant tradition: We hang on a “clothsline” a new sock each night (there are 6 of us in the family, so it works well we each get 2 new pairs). In the sock I put a slip of paper (recycled of course) of something we will do that day to prepare for Christmas – i.e. put up the outdoor wreath, buy, decorate the tree, a child gets to select the story for the night – or for those lazy too busy tonight options, eat peppermint icecream. In the end, no waste, the house is decorated, cookies baked, and we all have new socks.

  8. maisie says:

    We have a fabric one withe the individual pockets, and I used to buy the foil wrapped coins to pop into the pockets.

    However I did this year succumb to pester power and have bought 2 Fair Trade choc calendars from the local Organic shop.

    As DS1 is now 13 going on 30 he still wants the calendar but not the look of a small childs.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Sam – I loved hearing about your advent calendars; they are clearly a big part of your festivities!

    Along with Deb from Boston, the suggestion of things to do for each day is really lovely and gets away from the whole commercial side of things. I love how things work out for you Deb – with the baking and decorating done by Christmas – I might just be stealing that idea myself; very inspiring!

    The nativity advent calendar looks lovely Mrs A – and it’s clearly standing the test of time for you and J 🙂

    Ahhhh, Poppy and Sarah; it’s a case of grin and bear it for you then 🙁

    Kristen and Esther – it’s amazing isn’t it, how you assume other countries do the same. Kristen; no crackers and no advent calendars; you’re looking greener and greener over there 😀

    Gosh, that was excellent and produced some great ideas – thank you everyone!

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Maisie – we were writing at the same time 😀 I understand the pester power thing; we all succumb to it at times. At least you have chosen fair trade and your son will be happy 😉

  11. I love all these advent calendar ideas!! We don’t actually even have one (our cat isn’t much interested in the countdown), but in our roles as auntie and uncle, I think we should give one of these options a try!

  12. Kris says:

    I’m with Jen – lots of lovely ideas and I’m quite glad to be an auntie rather than a parent being given unsuitable tat.

    My sisters kids have a lovely cloth advent calendar made of stockings on a cord at my parents house, and I think they’ve got a cloth pocket calendar at home too – both are run on the basis of whatever sweets they might have been given anyway going into the pockets instead.

    However, I sort of wish that *I* hadn’t seen the evidence of the Green and Blacks advent calendar… mmmm….

  13. Beth says:

    Just recently found your blog and love your ideas!

    When I was a kid, we used to have a wall hanging that was a felt christmas tree with velcro sewn on where the decorations would go. Each day, we’d choose a little felt decoration and stick it on (the decorations had the other part of the velcro tab).

  14. Layla says:

    Great ideas!! :))

    Unfortunately My Mom has already bought a Little Miss not-soGreen that comes over for some learning & stories & such a dreaded plastic one!!
    will probably have to print these out & translate, & show her for hopefully next year (or when she has grandkids!) …

    I keep telling her how bad & ‘poison’ sugar & toxics in the sweets & chocolate are for kiddies, but she still has no sense!! & chocolate (although having magnesium & some other ‘good’ things – is also addictive! – google up theobromine, anyone who doesn’t believe me!)

  15. Sam says:

    If you’re at all crafty, there’s no excuse to ever buy one again. The Crafty Crow has listed hoards of wonderful Advent Calenders to make.

  16. Sam says:

    Oops! It didn’t include the link. Just google “Crafty Crow”.

  17. Sal says:

    We have a fabric one that we fill each year. I am thinking of making my son work for the treats we put in (only in as far as we melt our g&b bars and pour into small molds) I do like the idea of putting a note in the pockets though, its feels better than encouraging 7am chocolate.

  18. Mr. Green says:

    Hi Sal.
    I think one of the most wonderful things about Christmas is the sense of waiting and anticipation. Children tend to want everything at once, but if you just hold them off a while it makes the ‘prize’ so much more special when it happens. Longing and hoping is very special when it leads to fulfillment…

  19. Mrs Green says:

    Glad you like them Jen – some of them are lovely and I’m enjoying hearing about other people’s ideas too.

    Oooo, Kris – that G&B calendar is a bit of a temptation isn’t it? Imagine the high from one of those bars each morning LOL! The stockings sound lovely; I think I saw something like that online – it was really beautiful.

    Hey Beth – so glad you found us! The idea of the tree to decorate sounds gorgeous; I really love it. Funny how these memories stick with us 🙂

    Hi Layla; unfortunately we plan so early for Christmas that we often hear of ideas once we’ve made a purchase! Still, you’re gradually sowing seeds for your mother and maybe she will make a few changes in the coming years. I had not heard of theobramine, but spent some time on Wikipaedia reading up on it – fascinating stuff – thank you!

    Ooo Sam – I love the Crafty Crow site; there are some awesome ideas on there. The site is here if anyone wants to take a peek – you might be gone some time! it takes a long time to load, but is worth waiting for.

    Chocolate making sounds like a great bit of work to get a treat for 7am Sal. I think your little one might just enjoy it too much 😀

  20. Layla says:

    My mom just brought home terrible non-eco pink slippers & fleece shawl for the kiddie… I think she goes slightly boggle-minded when it come to kiddies & shopping!! 🙂
    /Must want grandkids so much!! fortunately she still doesn’t have ’em, or I’d go bonkers seeing her buy all that non-zero waste stuff!!/

    How do you deal with well-meaning relatives who just seem ‘lost’ on the idea of ‘green’…?? – even if they’ve nodded to you & the concept initially!!

    I do hope the seeds bear some fruit in the future.. she’s at least sold on the recycling thing..

    Glad you liked the stuff on theobromine.. there are some other similarly iffy ingredients, including caffeine.. (the book on chocolate I’ve been reading says that a cup of cocoa is the same for a kiddie, with regard to bodysize, as a cup of coffee for an adult!) I still like it sometimes, being an adult, if there’s not a better alternative source of magnesium near:) – but for anyone who has hyperactive kids… (or doesn’t wish them to become such lol)
    I’ve read the opinion it’s for adults only. & best in dark chocolate form with 70% cocoa or more.. as milk from the milk chocolate isn’t a readily absorbable source of calcium..

    So.. I guess this further narrows down the range of ‘appropriate gifts’.. hmm..
    (most sweets are not ‘zero waste’ anyway…)
    I like the idea of non-clutter gifts.. like a ticket to the zoo or such.. where gifts are experiences & not items..
    maybe this could help your christmas too..? 🙂

    Like Sam’s idea of little notes & activities to do, which is BRILLIANT!! 🙂

  21. Mrs Green says:

    Layla, I think Grandparents like to buy their grandchildren (or anyone from that generation) things; it gives them pleasure to give in this way……..

    Dealing with friends and relatives who don’t share our values and beliefs is all about tolerance 😀 We have to accept that we are all different and just celebrate the areas in which we overlap in our ideals. You mention your Mum is into recycling, so focus on that and help her wherever you can. From that something else might click into place, or not…….

    The gift of an experience or of your time are great gifts to give. I’ve written some stuff on this which will be shared on the blog over time. Spending quality time with people; especially the elderly and our children is most meaningful of all and creates memories.

  22. Mrs Green says:

    Thank you Emma – we’re building up a great resource here with lots of lovely ideas.

  23. Mrs Green,

    This morning at my local bakers, Auld’s, I ordered a Black Forest Gateau for the festive season, specifying the Zero Waste requirements. A Christmas pudding was not available so a further search is needed.

    On the subject of Zero Waste Christmas, I contacted Trumpf regarding their Christmas range of chocolates. If need be some boxes will be ordered for friends and family. Any extra will be put to good use.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John, Good news about the black forest gateau – I guess they’ll put that in a cardboard box for you? I’m sure I’ve seen some Christmas puddings in foil containers. Would you consider making one yourself; I believe they are quite easy to make. (never tried it myself because it is only Mr Green who eats it, so seems a waste to get all the ingredients in for one small pudding).
    Good luck with Trumpf!

  25. Mrs Green,

    I explained about the plastic-less conditions required for Zero Waste. The ladies have been very supportive though I must admit one slipped in a plastic cake holder tray into a box I purchased recently. It was probably force of habit on her part, though that is not certain.

    The Christmas pudding is for a cousin who prefers that, with custard, rather than the gateaux, at the festive dinners.

    A funny aside at Auld’s. Jeanette, an assistant there whose son lives beside my cousin, Gerry, asked about our relationship! Thinking the worst, or possibly her son, she queried the situation. Born in 56, I know no other than male/female. I explained the blood connection, our late mothers were sisters. Misunderstandings are a part of life. They can be quite funny.

  26. On the subject of Advent calendars all I can say is AAArrghh!
    Forget grandparents’ great intentions. It’s the corporate strangers you also have to look out for. This week, my little darlings came out of school with a chocolate advent calendar each, donated to the school by a local tractor and combine harvester manufacturer….And as for the picture, was it a beautiful field in a winter wonderland setting? No! It was an unseasonal photo of a blimmin’ tractor! The boys thought it was great of course and I suppose at least I’m lucky enough to recycle the packaging 😀 x

  27. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John,
    I think that many shop assistants are under the force of years of habit; it’s so hard for them to change; as it is for us. I see them talking to customers and just reaching out for carrier bags; so I can understand mistakes. Misunderstandings, can indeed, add some laughs to our daily lives. 😀

    Ahhhh, Mrs A; yep landfill stuff turns up in the most unexpected of places. We can only plan for so many things and the rest is up to, well, fate, the Gods, other people’s whims, whatever we choose to believe in!

  28. Emily says:

    My daughter has been given one of the chocolate type of Advent calendars two years’ running and both had a little picture behind each chocolate, so each time once they were finished with, I cut the pictures out and made Christmas cards (for the following year) with them. Also, the white card I used was about to be thrown away at work so I felt better about the fact I wasn’t using “new” card.

    I managed to use pretty much all of the calendar except for the plastic and foil and the people who we gave them to were really chuffed to receive a handmade card.

    Incidentally my daughter now has a wooden advent calendar, but I do worry about how ethically produced all the wooden and fabric ones are…

  29. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Emily, welcome to the site 🙂 You sound very resourceful with your advent calendar backing; I like the idea of using them to make next years cards!
    I understand your concerns about the ethical stance on wooden and fabric advent calendars. I guess the only way to be sure is to make your own 🙂

  30. LJayne says:

    Didn’t see this last year but still want to comment!

    We have a couple. One is a fabric christmas tree and each pocket contains an ornament you velcro on. I also have a great nativity one from Phoenix Trading (the card people) where each day you add another person or animal to the scene by the means of a slot and a tab. So this can be reused again and again.

    I send advent calendars to my god-children (I have 4) each year. Kind of a tradition. But they are always cardboard so totally recyclable. Plus we are religious so I always get a nativity or similar picture. And I always try and buy charity ones.

  31. Mrs Green says:

    @LJayne: Hi lesley, the fabric advent calenders are smashing aren’t they and I love the sound of the Phoenix Trading one – are you a trader yourself as I can never find out how to buy the things! Thanks for raising this thread, it was popular last year, so it’s good to see it being used again.

  32. LJayne says:

    No I’m not, although I’m considering it at some point. I buy 99% of my cards from them for economic reasons although they do come shrink wrapped. But I’m sure that it is either 2 or 4 wrapping and one of your articles recently referred to sending this to Polyprint so that will get around that!

    http://www.phoenix-trading.co.uk/web/corp/howtobuy/overview.do

    There’s a link on the site to “contact your trader” – I guess you put in your town or postcode. My seller has a number of customers who browse the website, or she sends them a catalogue, and then they email her with their orders. I see her a couple of times at year at toddler groups and buy in bulk then.

  33. Sarah says:

    Woohoo! The well meaning relatives are so fed up with royal mail costs and delays that they’re sending money for the kids to buy their own advent calenders and the kids asked to resurrect the fabric pockets one, and can we please get things to go in each pocket!

  34. Mrs Green says:

    @LJayne: Sounds great; I’ll check out my local trader – thanks. I looked into it at one point too, but I don’t think I meet that many people to make it viable 🙂

    @Sarah: Now that is a result! Well done; and good on Royal Mail for cocking up and putting your relatives off LOL!

  35. gillian says:

    I saw this idea at the christmas market and really loved it, its a metal hoop , maybe the size of a side plate, with a peice of string across for hanging it up , then from that hoop , brown string hung at all different lengths ,attached to which were little white paper gift bags with red numbers painted on (1-25) . The idea being that you put a little gift in each bag and there is the added joy of having to search for the correct bag that day. so much fun , resuable and it looked so pretty!
    Gillian x

  36. Mrs Green says:

    @gillian: Hi Gilian, thank you for taking time to leave us a comment about your recent find. The hoop sounds like a lovely idea; really pretty but without taking up too much room. Thanks for sharing!

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