Black Friday is a day of sales, shopping, and overconsumption, and consequently, a day of environmental degradation.
More than 165 million people are expected to go shopping over the Black Friday weekend, primarily in the U.S, in order to snatch up products with prices that have been slashed dramatically.
When prices are slashed, consumers buy products in excess at prices that don’t reflect the true environmental, health, and social costs of the goods. A phone may be on sale for $300, but that doesn’t reflect the cost of the pollution, carbon emissions, and toxic e-waste that comes out of creating such a product.
Electronics are the number one most sought after type of good on Black Friday, resulting in the creation of a ton of e-waste. 50 million tons of e-waste is generated each year, and if left untouched, that number could rise to 120 million tons by 2050. Only 20% of this e-waste is recycled, meaning 80% of it is burned or dumped in a landfill.
E-waste is problematic because the materials it’s made of are toxic, endangering the lives of those, generally in Asia, who handle the waste in an attempt to recover the materials for resell. Children are especially vulnerable to these toxic materials, as absorbing these toxins can have irreversible impacts on their health, potentially stunting their growth and compromising their immune system. Children are often exposed to these toxins because they infiltrate waterways.
Toys and clothing also experience big price cuts during Black Friday. Toys made of plastic are bought in huge amounts, only to be thrown out the next year when something new and improved comes out, resulting in large swaths of plastic waste. Clothes are also bought only to quickly be thrown away as fast fashion trends change, contributing to the excess of textile waste that is seen across the world each year. The average US resident throws out 70 pounds of textiles a year and wears their garments only a few times before they’re over them.
These environmental impacts of Black Friday consumerism are being noticed by consumers, businesses, and policymakers. A group of lawmakers in France want to ban Black Friday citing environmental impacts as their reasoning, businesses like REI are closing their doors on Black Friday to combat consumerism, and many consumers are pledging Black Friday as a buy nothing day.
Other consumers are still taking part in Black Friday, but in a different way. Instead of using Black Friday as a day to overconsume and buy things they don’t need, they’re taking advantage of the sales to purchase sustainable necessities or support small businesses. Some are also using the day as an excuse to invest in sustainable projects.
What do you do on Black Friday?
is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.