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Overconsumption and the True Environmental Impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Naman Bajaj
November 17, 2023

Black Friday and Cyber Monday symbolize the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. What began in the United States has now been adopted globally. While these shopping extravaganzas boost retail sales (and our serotonin levels), they come with a steep environmental impact.

How did Black Friday and Cyber Monday start?

Black Friday originated in the 1950s when a massive Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia led to chaotic Friday crowds, later dubbed "Black Friday." The crowd also drove massive spikes in retail and restaurant sales. By the late 1980s, the term spread, signifying a profitable day for stores. Black Friday has since evolved into a four-day sales event, giving rise to events like Cyber Monday.

What’s the environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Waste Generation

Black Friday and Cyber Monday lead to significant waste generation as consumers pursue in-store or online deals, often resulting in overconsumption and returns. One study found that about 80% of Black Friday purchases, including their packaging, are discarded after minimal or no use. In the U.S., waste increases by 25% from Black Friday to the New Year, with packaging materials like plastic and cardboard contributing to the growing waste crisis in landfills and oceans.

Emissions and Energy Consumption

The surge in online shopping during these days leads to increased demand for transportation and energy resources. During last year’s Black Friday week, it was estimated that 1.2 million tons of CO2 was released due to trucks transporting goods around Europe. That’s 94% higher than an average week. Additionally, the energy-intensive data centers that power online retail operations contribute to carbon footprints.

Social Impact

All our purchases involve human contribution. But the extra profit from Black Friday's sale of even cheaper goods rarely benefits the workers. Those involved in packaging, shipping, and delivering products, especially at Amazon, face stress and long hours, up to 12-16 each day during these days. This Black Friday, Amazon workers in 30 countries are threatening to strike for better pay and working conditions.

Alternatives to Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Consume Mindfully

Rather than giving in to time-limited sales, consider waiting until you genuinely need something. Instead, get involved in sustainable initiatives like Giving Tuesday or Buy Nothing Day, which encourages sustainable shopping and helps avoid overconsumption.

Pick Sustainable Brands

Look for brands that prioritize sustainability. Take Patagonia, for example. They have been avoiding it for years. Plenty of others are on the same path, so you've got options!

Try Secondhand Shopping

Embrace the circular economy by exploring second-hand options or try your hand at sustainable gifting. Thrifting, buying vintage, or participating in local swap events can reduce the demand for new products and minimize the environmental impact of consumerism.

As we navigate the holiday shopping season, it is crucial to recognize and address the environmental impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. By adopting mindful consumption practices, we as consumers can play a vital role in mitigating the negative effects of rampant consumerism on our planet.

To explore more sustainable practices, download Commons and join our community of tens of thousands of people.

Naman Bajaj
November 17, 2023


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