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Nothing ventured, something gained

Friday, November 27, 2009

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  • Students receive free haircuts in the University Centre as part of Buy Nothing Day. (Greg Beneteau)

    Students receive free haircuts in the University Centre as part of Buy Nothing Day. (Greg Beneteau)

Written by Greg Beneteau

There was a whole lot of something going on during Buy Nothing Day.

At the height of the noon-hour rush in the University Centre courtyard, students took advantage of various stations offering free goods and services - snacks, coffee, entertainment, clothing and even haircuts – as part of an annual event intended to help people think about what they buy and why.

By offering freebies, people have a chance to reconsider purchases they would have made and explore alternatives, explained Carly Ziter, an organizer with Guelph Students for Environmental Change. 

“If people are made aware of it, then they’ll be made more aware of those habits in general and maybe change those habits,” explained Ziter.

The idea of Buy Nothing Day originated with Vancouver artist Ted Dave in 1992 and was subsequently adopted by Adbusters, a Canadian counter-culture media group.

The event is timed to coincide with Black Friday, considered one of the ten busiest shopping days of the year, and runs in cities across North America and in Europe.

GSEC has organized Buy Nothing Day in Guelph annually since 2004, though other unofficial events have been organized farther back, organizers said.

Despite its namesake, the event is less about avoiding consumption at all costs than about making rational purchasing choices during a time when marketers use the holiday season to promote shopaholism, said GSEC member Emily Pong.

"If you go out on Boxing Day or Black Friday in the United States, you can buy so much stuff so cheaply and I doubt that you'll use it as much as you think you would," Pong said.

Encouraging people to avoid the mall also "helps people figure out what's really important during the Holidays - spending time with their families and friends."

This year's Buy Nothing Day paid special attention to the impact of the economic crisis on students and the issue of climate change, which will discussed by world leaders next week at a conference in Copenhagen.

Pong pointed out that buying locally-produced goods and avoiding unnecessary purchases was also a strategy for reducing one’s carbon footprint. To that end, GSEC encouraged people to sign its Tap In pledge and stop buying bottled water, both as a way to save money and help curb waste.

Also new this year, Ziter said GSEC recruited a number campus and community groups to promote their free services, in part to save cash-strapped students a bit of money.

Stuff Swap, a free item depository run by the Guelph Campus Foodbank offered previously enjoy clothes for the taking, while DIY community group HandMade taught workshops on craft and gift making.

For the brave, volunteers helping out at the Guelph Cuts for Cancer fundraiser in January offered free trims - an offer taken up by U of G student Allen Randall.

"It's actually one of the better haircuts I've had," Randall said after taking the plunge. "The price was right, too."

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