Black Friday shoppers must consider sustainable alternatives

By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer

In just one week, American families will gather for Thanksgiving, a holiday centered around gratitude. Ironically, many people will mob storefronts in search of Black Friday deals the following day and trade thankfulness for consumerism.

Black Friday seems as popular an American tradition as Thanksgiving. According to an NBC survey, 186.4 million U.S. consumers shopped on Black Friday in 2020, despite many businesses closing for the day due to COVID-19 restrictions.

While the tradition may benefit those in need of holiday gifts on a budget, Black Friday overall does no more than promote overconsumption and materialism. The tradition degrades American values as well as the environment.

“For other people with more than enough, it just perpetuates a consumption-oriented society, which has an adverse effect on the environment,” Nicholas Ashford, an environmental law professor at MIT, said in a 2018 interview with National Geographic.

Between producing merchandise for sale, packaging, and shipping, the Black Friday shopping experience produces an incredible excess of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change.

Splurge-shopping on Black Friday also contributes to the nation’s waste issue, particularly in terms of the plastic that goods are packaged and transported in. The purchased items themselves also often end up in landfills. According to a survey, over 80% of items bought on Black Friday are disposed of after one or fewer uses.

Black Friday is one facet of American culture that needs a more sustainable alternative, as it causes environmental degradation on a large scale.

In recent years, some people have swapped Black Friday for Cyber Monday, which involves pursuing deals online rather than in shops. There has been debate as to which shopping method is better for the environment, but the online alternative may cause even more harm.

The once-American tradition has also gained popularity in the United Kingdom in recent years. According to the British price comparison website, “[Black Friday weekend] home deliveries this year will churn out 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of 435 return flights from London to New York (or the same weight as 61,308 elephants).”

In both America and the U.K., the harm of online shopping is exacerbated by fast shipping options, which utilize more fuel than slower shipping windows. According to a 2019 analysis by Vox and the University of California’s Climate Lab, “two-day shipping, like that provided for free to Amazon Prime members, left a bigger carbon footprint than slower options that shipped over a week.”

The need for instant gratification and material accumulation is accelerating the decline of the global environment. Without major cultural shifts, we will only drive our planet into a state of complete destruction.

These shifts need to occur on a large scale. For example, infrastructure updates will make the manufacturing process more sustainable. Nevertheless, everyday consumers can make changes to lessen the negative impact their holiday shopping habits have on the environment.

Upcycling, the process of turning used objects into new products, reduces the amount of waste one produces and makes for innovative and unique holiday gifts. Re-gifting may be a social taboo, but it reduces waste by extending a product’s life.

As an added bonus for college students, these alternatives are even cheaper than Black Friday deals, oftentimes costing nothing at all. For the less crafty, thrifting provides a cheap and sustainable shopping option.

Pushed by a recent wave of American environmentalism, a number of bigger-name companies are also switching to sustainable packaging or carbon-neutral shipping practices. Researching and patronizing these brands over those using wasteful means takes some effort, but greatly benefits the planet in the long run.

Black Friday deals are a widely beloved facet of American culture, but the amazingly low prices come at the cost of the environment. A nationwide shift from gluttonous consumerism to environmental consciousness is necessary to minimize human-driven environmental destruction going forward, and this large-scale cultural overhaul can begin with the average consumer.

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