What are the alternatives to Black Friday and why do we need an alternative? Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. Millions of shoppers will flock to retail outlets as part of an annual consumer frenzy. Shoppers are willing to wait in line and compete with other bargain hungry Americans for the chance to save a few bucks. It is a ritual that is sewn into the American psyche, like apple pie and honest Abe. The problem is that this day comes with a massive environmental footprint.
Almost 170 million Americans will take part in holiday shopping and the U.S. Post Office will deliver 15 billion pieces of mail and 900 million packages between Thanksgiving and the New Year. People will buy a range of environmentally destructive items including plastic and fast fashion. A study from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that a truckload of textiles is wasted every second and the Council for Textile Recycling reports that the average U.S. resident throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles every single year. The combination of resources, carbon emissions, and waste make fast fashion an environmental nightmare. To add insult to injury fast fashion often contains microfibers of plastic that eventually end up in the ocean. Plastic is also used in toys and home goods as well as packaging and only 9 percent of the billions of pounds of plastic that are produced every year get recycled. Much of this plastic waste is ending up in the ocean, where it can smother reefs and choke wildlife.
Dr. Diana Ivanova, research fellow at the University of Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute says rampant consumerism is bad for the environment and human well-being. She said these sales “stimulate overconsumption, materialism, and a work-and-spend culture”.
Sustainably minded advocates urge restraint. Environmental groups like Greenpeace encourage consumers to think long-term when purchasing an item. Buying used products or those made from upcycled, or recycled content, is a good way to decrease the resource inputs. While some suggest we should avoid disposable consumer goods that we really don’t need, other say we should avoid shopping altogether.
Rather than feed the frenzy some retailers are opting out of the Black Friday madness. The recreational equipment company REI has not opened its doors on Black Friday since 2014. They give their 13,000 employees a paid day off and urge them and their 18 million members to engage in environmental action instead of shopping on Black Friday. REI calls the movement “opt to act” and as they explained in a press release, the campaign encourages people make a year round commitment to reduce their footprints or do things like clean up outdoor areas. Their employees have taken the suggestion to heart, having collected more than 3.4 tons of garbage from outdoor areas across the U.S. REI is also working on reducing its own footprint and they are moving towards zero waste.
“Today, that future is at risk,” REI CEO Eric Artz wrote in October. “We are in the throes of an environmental crisis that threatens not only the next 81 years of the co-op, but the incredible outdoor places that we love.”