Quick tips for the holiday shopping season

Pointers on shopping sustainably and saving money

Quick tips for the holiday shopping season

With the holiday season fast approaching, two contributors give pointers on how to approach gift giving.

Embrace the holiday spirit with more sustainable gifting

While people may feel at their most charitable during the holiday season, the spirit of giving usually ends up hurting the environment. Heightened consumerism around the holidays results in more solid waste being generated, polluting the planet and exacerbating the labour and environmental practices of many multinational corporations that stand to profit.

According to Zero Waste Canada, household waste can increase more than 25 per cent during the holiday season, yielding 545,000 tons of waste from gift wrapping and shopping bags alone. Exchanging homemade or secondhand gifts are other meaningful ways to circumvent unnecessary holiday consumption this season.

Furthermore, ethical consumers may be interested in supporting fair trade businesses in the spirit of the holidays. For example, products with the FAIRTRADE Mark are made according to the internationally established Fairtrade standards, which aim to ensure “decent working conditions and fair terms of trade and to support local sustainability for farmers and workers in the Global South.”

As of 2017, there are over 200 companies in Canada selling or trading Fairtrade products, ranging from cosmetic companies to chocolate companies. These companies produce about 7,000 Fairtrade-certified products to the Canadian market.

While the business of Christmas is not always sustainable, there are convenient options for consumers looking for more ethical alternatives. Perhaps we can learn from the story of the Grinch and realize that the holiday spirit is embodied by gratitude and faith in goodness and togetherness, rather than by accumulating excessive material possessions.

—Madeleine Kelly

A four-step guide to saving

It’s the season of giving but don’t let debts ruin your holiday spirit. Homemade gifts can be creative and affordable, but if you’re the type of gift-giver who lacks the time for creativity or would prefer to shop around, planning ahead and allotting the appropriate amount of time for spending are surefire ways to help you save money.

Here are some helpful tips that I use to alleviate the stress of holiday shopping:

  1. Set a budget. This sounds simple and obvious, but retailers know that consumers buy into their deals. As consumers, it’s important to set a budget to avoid overspending on unnecessary items.
  2. Shop online. Many stores offer the same savings on their websites, making online shopping more convenient and easier for you to compare similar items from different retailers. Many sites will also offer a welcome discount if you join their email list, as well as extra savings and free shipping codes once you’re subscribed, so bear with the overflow of marketing emails just for this season to get some extra discounts.
  3. Spend intentionally. It’s important to consider who you would like to spend money on, so compiling a list of people and assigning an amount of money for each person will help your bank statement stay within budget.
  4. Budget your time as you would budget your money. Time is money, so scheduling and setting deadlines for your holiday shopping will keep your budget on target.

—Tiffany Lieu

The most wasteful time of the year

Holiday festivities come at a major environmental cost

The most wasteful time of the year

Along with the festivities, the holidays are a time for trash — yes, trash. It’s just one of the things that make the holiday season so unfriendly to the environment.

Canada produces some of the highest amounts of trash among all developed nations, with 720 kilograms of waste produced per capita in 2012 alone. Even more waste is generated during the holiday season, in part because of the increase in gift purchasing.

It is also becoming more common to purchase these gifts online. A report released in 2014 by the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, projected an eight to 11 per cent increase in online shopping compared to the previous year.

A large environmental impact of online shopping is the amount of fossil fuel consumed by delivery. This is especially true for items shipped overseas, which must be transported by a boat or a plane.

The production of goods themselves have an environmental impact as well. Electronics, now a major part of the consumer landscape, are among the worst culprits.

U of T professor Miriam Diamond, who studies environmental contaminants like e-waste, says that the production of electronic devices is typically more wasteful than traditional items made from wood or fabric. “It takes a lot of greenhouse gases [and waste] to achieve the purity of the materials used in electronics,” explained Diamond.

The size of the electronic device doesn’t matter. “You could have a very small handheld device that [has] the same amount of waste and greenhouse gases and toxins in it as a much larger product.”

Diamond said that humans produce around 40 million tons of e-waste every year.

The average shelf life of an electronic toy, such as a doll with a chip in it, could be 10 years. While energy is consumed to produce electronic goods, there is also the same amount, if not more, produced when those same products are thrown out. If the doll is not disposed at an e-waste recycling facility, it may end up in a landfill in a third-world country; it is common for e-waste to land there.

There are also social impacts to consider, noted Diamond. Textile workers and electronic toy manufacturers often work in very poor conditions. “There are social costs that are really well hidden from Western consumers… it’s not all about us — it’s also about the impact that our purchasing creates on other people’s lives.”

Along with the increase in waste, additional energy is consumed during the holiday season because of Christmas lights. A 2008 study by the US Department of Energy found that Christmas lights consume 6.63 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year.

Haven’t thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No worries. Aim to shrink your ecological footprint.

Diamond suggested that this year, instead of giving material goods, consider giving your time — share experiences with your friends and family instead of goods.

Your holiday gift guide, meme-ified

Founded by Rotman students, DankTank sells everyday objects with a twist

Your holiday gift guide, meme-ified

The holiday season brings with it cold weather, exams, new Starbucks cups, and ongoing anxiety to find the perfect gifts. One company has stepped in to help you find the best present for your meme-loving friends and family.

Dank Tank, founded by third-year Rotman student Jonathan Ge and his partner, Jason Wong, ‘meme-ify’ everyday products to give them a fresh twist. Alongside their team of five, including two “meme researchers,” Dank Tank is making the products you never knew you wanted.

In December 2016, Dank Tank launched their first product, Holy Méme Bible, an adult colouring and activity book that included all of the most viral memes of 2016. The first edition generated $200,000 in sales in just three weeks.

This year, Holy Méme Bible: New Testament showcases all of 2017’s most popular memes in over 60 pages of activities. From connecting the dots of Mocking SpongeBob to learning some meme trivia, the book inspires hours of fun.

New Testament also pokes fun at US President Donald Trump on several pages, which Ge attributes to his unpredictable and random nature. “In 2017, Trump himself perpetuated the meme game. He probably takes up five per cent of the total meme space,” says Ge.

If colouring is not your thing, Dank Tank also offers meme-inspired bath bombs. The current stock includes a fidget spinner bath bomb with the scent of Summer Berry, and one Cherry Blossom-scented bath bomb with the inscription “Send Nudes.”

Ge also hints at future designs that will include bath bombs in the shape of the Swirling Mr. Krabs meme, and another paying respect to the widely popular game The Floor Is Lava.

One of Dank Tank’s products is slightly different than the rest: the candles. “They’re not based off memes. Realistically, we call them Relatable Candles because their scent and text is meant to convey a certain meaning,” says Ge.

Candles such as the “smell of your bed sheets when you cry yourself to sleep at night” and the “smell of the perfume from the crush that you never got to ask out” will surely strike a chord with many.

Though Dank Tank only has three products currently for sale, Ge gave The Varsity some insight into its future developments. The Lean Méme Cuisine Cookbook, currently available for pre-order, offers close to 20 meme-inspired recipes, including Cashew Me Outside and the Idiot Sandwich.

Ge also reports that “condoms that look like sauce packets” will also be for sale sometime in 2018. The meme team also plans to release a meme encyclopedia that categorizes, describes, and provides information for over 300 different memes disseminated from 2003 to 2017.

“Memes are one of the most important pieces of our generation,” says Ge on his inspiration. From leading political movements to vouching for social change, Ge believes we have yet to reach the heights of meme culture’s success.

Despite the initial success of Dank Tank, Ge doesn’t have plans to leave school. He says he has a lot to learn, including marketing strategies and how to properly manage a company’s finances. Ge also attributes the optimization skills learned during his Rotman education as a key element that has helped his company’s financial gain.

“If you want to become an entrepreneur, just do it. You have to stop thinking, ‘This might not be a good idea,’” says Ge. “If you want to genuinely impress employers, start your own business. That shows strength and initiative,” he added.

Dank Tank’s products are the perfect gifts for this holiday season. Whether you choose the Holy Méme Bible, meme bath bombs, or the Relatable Candles, each item will certainly serve as a conversation starter, in addition to a practical purpose.

Ge guarantees that the recipient of any Dank Tank product will be surprised by your choice of gift.

The Christmas Market incorporates new music into holiday tradition

The Distillery District's iconic festival features local Canadian talent

The Christmas Market incorporates new music into holiday tradition

Like its previous incarnations, this year’s Christmas Market in the Distillery District succeeds in transporting visitors to a bygone era, with Christmas cheer engulfing the neighbourhood’s nostalgic brick buildings and cobblestone pathways. Between the crowds and shops, carolers fill the streets with song, working seamlessly with the lights and décor to provide a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience.

One of the most interesting features of the month-long event is the musical acts that have been added to the schedule. From Tuesday to Sunday, bands and acts will perform on the main stage, each day assigned a different genre of music. Most notable is Saturday, with a pop and rock focus that showcases emerging local artists in the afternoon and featured artists in the evening.

While the artists are not necessarily big names, the fact that the majority of them are local Canadian talent makes each performance an intimate experience.

Spencer Mackenzie, a prodigious blues guitarist; Melina Melle, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Belleville; and Avery Raquel, an up-and-coming soul singer, lead the youthful musical talent on display this year. These artists will perform at the final three Saturday shows.

Combined with various Toronto-based choirs, acappella groups, and jazz ensembles, the Christmas Market has something for everyone’s musical tastes.

Family-friendly attractions, such as the Ferris wheel, carousel, and Santa House, are also open for holiday cheer. For more mature audiences, the beer gardens serve varieties of craft beers, mulled wines, and Christmas cocktails.

Be sure to check out the Heart of Christmas, the perfect photo-op, and this year’s unbelievably large Christmas tree, donated by Forests Ontario and Ontario Wood.

The Christmas Market in the Distillery District ends December 23.

How sport came to define the holidays

For many Canadians, the holidays are spent watching favourite family sports teams

How sport came to define the holidays

For me, there are a few things which define the holiday season: turkey, reuniting with family members, and, perhaps most importantly, the IIHF U-20 World Junior Hockey Championship.  From Boxing Day to early January, the most talented young hockey players in the world compete with the hopes of bringing home gold for their country. Given that this tournament happens annually, and has players with little name recognition, it doesn’t seem like it should be a calendar event for anyone except the most diehard of junior hockey fans.       

For the many countries the World Juniors remain unrecognized. Yet for many Canadians, the event elicits an almost religious devotion. According to TSN, the Canadian broadcast of the 2015 medal game featuring Canada and Russia averaged 7.1 million viewers, with 13.4 million tuning in at some point. That’s just under 36 per cent of the entire population of Canada tuning into a single game. 19.4 million watched at least some of the tournament. The level of scrutiny directed at the young Canadian players is perplexing and inspiring all at the same time.     

South of the border, another sport rules the holiday airwaves. The NCAA college football season ends in a number of “bowls,” — or high stakes playoff games — the largest of which are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. ESPN’s Josh Krulewitz reported that last year each game averaged 28 million viewers, making them the two “most watched shows in cable TV history.”

The NBA Christmas special is yet another must-see holiday sporting event. The NBA offers several games, including a rematch of the two best teams from the previous season. Nearly 11 million people watched the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers across the U.S. just as they have since the NBA began the tradition in 1947. The NHL began holding its annual holiday outdoor Winter Classic in 2013. The 2014 Winter Classic was viewed by eight million people on television, and another 105,491 people live, setting an NHL attendance record.       

For an opportunity of year that is so often sold as a time to reconnect with family, we do watch an awful lot of sports around the holidays. It actually makes some sense — if I’m a sports fan and all the people I love are in the game together and we need something to do after we open presents, why not throw on a basketball game? In the aftermath of New Years’ when everyone’s languishing, hungover on the couch, why not watch the Rose Bowl? Just like the holidays themselves, the emphasis is not on what we are doing, but who we are with. That’s why I watch the World Juniors, and why I love the holidays. The gold medal will last me until next year, the time I spend with family and friends yelling, cheering, and crying will remain for a lifetime.