Ethical giving: 10 ways to give something back this Christmas

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Christmas is the season of goodwill to all men and counting your blessings, so ditch the novelty socks and lavender bath salts this year and embrace the true spirit of the festive season.

The high street is already bustling with Christmas cheer with two months to go until Santa loads up his sleigh. But if the idea of fighting hordes of shoppers for the latest must-have toy or increasing the mounds of landfill in the UK with unnecessary gift wrap fills you with dread, then it may be time to consider an ethical and eco-friendly celebration and give something back this Christmas.

If you want to give instead of receive this December, here are 10 ways to do it:

1. Foods banks

Last Christmas food banks in the UK fed 60,000 people, a third of which were children. This was an increase from 20,000 in 2012 and this year the number of people relying on charitable donations for their Christmas lunch is expected to grow further.

The Trussell Trust runs over 420 food banks up and down the country and helps the problem of 'hidden hunger' in local communities. While most people are looking forward to turkey with all the trimmings there are many that aren't able to provide a Christmas meal for their families.

While stocking up for your Christmas dinner, throw in a few extra non-perishable items such as canned vegetables and fruit, tinned meat, or rice and pasta. These items can be taken straight to the food bank and many supermarkets have food bank drop up points.
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2. Clothes banks

If you're lucky enough to receive brand new clothes from Santa this year then considering clearing out some of the unworn or older items from your wardrobe. The Salvation Army has 6,500 clothing banks in car parks and recycling centres in the UK and accepts most clothes as long as they are clean and dry, as well as shoes that are tied together in pairs. It will also accept handbags, sheets, blankets and towels in its banks.

The average UK household spends £1,700 a year on clothes each year but unfortunately 31% of used clothing goes into landfill every year – equating to 350,000 tonnes of rubbish.

There are bound to be a few unloved items in your home that could be better used by someone who needs it.

3. Charity Christmas cards

If you have a favourite charity or local charity shop that you prefer to support, there is a good chance they will be putting out a range of Christmas cards this year. This is a great way to spread good tidings to your family and friends while donating to a charitable cause.

According to the Institute of Fundraising, two billions Christmas cards are sent in the UK and approximately a third of these include a charitable donation. However, the organisation warned the amount donated from the sale of the cards varies so ensure you are happy with the level of money being passed on to a good cause.

4. Ditch the gifts

If you are really brave, you could inform your family that there won't be any Christmas presents this year and instead donate the money you would have spent on gift-giving to a charity or cause close to your heart. And don't forget to use Gift Aid if you do, it allows charity to increase the value of your gift by claiming back tax at no extra cost to you.

Admittedly this may not be an option for the majority of households, especially ones with children, but you could always encourage your children to donate one of their gifts to the local charity shop or refuge and bring the real meaning of Christmas back.

5. Charity gifts

If getting rid of gifts altogether is too extreme you could always swap the standard comedy tie and pair of pyjamas for presents that will keep on giving long after the 25th December.

You can do everything from sponsor a child in need and supplying medical equipment to overseas charities to providing worm composting kits to farmers in Africa and adopting a panda.

Many charity gifts will provide regular updates to the person who has donated the money meaning you can make sure your friends and family will feel the warm glow of your gift long after the stockings are packed away.

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Nearly a Million Britons Use Food Banks

6. Give your time

While Christmas may be a time for most to indulge and snooze in front of the TV for many it offers no reprieve from homelessness or even just loneliness. After years of declining homelessness in the UK, in 2010 the numbers started to rise again. Since 2010 there has been a 37% increase in the number of rough sleepers in England, who now total 2,414, according to charity Crisis.

There are lots of charitable organisations that need extra pairs of hands on Christmas day to help serve dinner and spread good cheer to those who needed it most. Time is often the most valuable gift of all and a chance to put something back into the local community.

If you can't dedicate time to a shelter, how about popping into an elderly neighbour or someone on your street who may be on their own this Christmas, even if it's just to wish them season's greetings.

7. Unwanted presents

While you may not need another scarf and bobble hat from Auntie Margaret, the gift may be gratefully received by someone else. Instead of chucking unwanted Christmas gifts in the back of the wardrobe or listing them for a couple of quid on an auction site, take them down to your local charity shop who will make good use of them.

Gifts that are still in their packaging are particularly good as they can command a greater price. According to Gumtree.com, the value of unwanted Christmas gifts in 2012 totalled £2.1 billion – that's a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

8. Fairtrade dinner

Households across the UK will no doubt be tucking into turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings this year and the traditional dinner is one place where you can sneak in some ethical Christmas cheer.

Fairtrade is easily found in most supermarkets these days, with most of the big names offering ethically produced products. Making a few changes, whether its introducing Fairtrade fruit and veg or Fairtrade chocolate into your Christmas menu, will ensure you are helping change the world for the better.

Fairtrade promotes better working conditions for farmers, fair terms of trade and decent prices to ensure quality of life who help produce your food.

9. Ethical products

Whether you need to purchase an outfit for a picky fashionista, a piece of jewellery for a loved one or a gift for a gardener there is no end of ethical and eco-friendly options out there.

Buying ethically – whether that involves avoiding products that are not tested on animals, using suppliers that ensure the welfare of their workers, or opting for companies that tread lightly on the earth – has never been easier.

Rather than just dashing to the high street for a last minute gift, make sure to scour ethical and eco-friendly website where you are sure to find an earth, animal and human friendly equivalent.

10. Recycle

When Boxing Day rolls round and the fun of opening presents is over there is no doubt you will be left with reams of wrapping and boxes. According to WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) the amount of wrapping paper thrown away at Christmas in the UK would stretch to the moon.
This wrapping paper is thrown away along with enough tin foil to cover Suffolk.

It doesn't need to end up in landfill though. Recycling is an easy way to allow you to do your bit over the holidays. Make sure all your wrapping and cardboard boxes end up in the recycling, along with those wine bottles, instead of the bin and if you have a real tree, that can be recycled too.

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