COLUMN: Black Friday creates more waste than environment can take

Excessive spending on Black Friday results in waste piling the oceans and landfills.

Campbell Biemiller is a first-year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and entertainment for The Maneater.

Black Friday is the epitome of the overconsumption epidemic. People discard perfectly good items that litter the oceans and overwhelm the waste stream.

In 2019, the typical shopper spent on average $1,047 on Black Friday, according to Balance’s data from Black Friday sales. The average annual increase from 2002 to 2019 is 3.4%. Of U.S. consumers, 36% plan to try to do holiday shopping during Black Friday, according to Statista.

Billions of dollars are spent on this nationally recognized day. To prepare for this, businesses produced a surplus of goods to ensure every possible customer is satisfied, contributing to more plastic waste. Overproduction behavior is encouraged by mass spending. Excessive production is rewarded which needs to change to save the planet from permanent destruction. On Black Friday this year, consumers spent $9 billion online which is up 21.6% from prior years, according to data from Adobe Analytics.

According to Euronews, “hyper discount culture” fuels brands to overproduce. They know they will be able to shift overproduction during the holiday season. After Black Friday and sequential sales like Cyber Monday, businesses clear their surpluses by donating, selling or throwing away.

The appeal of Black Friday and major sales is the idea of upgrading current possessions for newer models or trendier items. Electronic devices are the most purchased Black Friday item and often end up in the fastest growing waste stream on the planet: e-waste.

According to The Basel Action Network, “e-waste contains toxic components such as lead, mercury and bisphenol-A (BPA); when electronics are disposed of improperly, these toxins can leach into the soil.”

Consumer culture prompts an urgency to have the newest, most advanced version of a product. People are addicted to thinking they need the latest iPhone or gadget even though their older models work perfectly well. This is wasteful and disregards the health of the environment.

The iPhone X is estimated to produce 79 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of its life, according to Apple, which ranges from production emissions to consumer use. If one takes into consideration that the average person replaces their phone every two years, that’s 158 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per phone.

Toys and clothing are major environmental offenders following electronics. The majority of toys are plastic or contain plastic pieces. They are then packaged in excessive amounts of plastic before being sold in stores. These plastics entering the waste stream are growing our global pollution problem and exhausting natural resources.

More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, according to Plastic Oceans. This plastic endangers animals and kills precious ecosystems. According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, extra holiday waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about one million extra tons per week. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet, according to Stanford.

Around the holiday season, many people update their wardrobes and toss used clothes away. As clothes are one of the top three gifts, according to the Basel Action Network, it’s popular for people to clean out closets because they stop caring for older clothes when they receive new ones. This results in every American wasting about 80 pounds of clothing per year.

Most shoppers purchase items on Black Friday for the sake of spending money. There is usually little necessity, and people feel the need to spend because of consumer culture. People would rather replace slightly worn goods rather than repairing them for further use.

If we took the time to repair clothes, there would be an increase in jobs relating to trades and a great decrease in waste in the environment, according to the EPA. Trade jobs have been replaced with machines over the years, and by repairing old clothes, some workers would get to join the workforce and stimulate the economy.

“The problem is the environmental impact of the production, transport and waste created by these products,” Greenpeace Germany campaigner Viola Wohlgemuth said in an interview with Euronews. “The whole online business model creates more delivery and packages, causing a huge impact to the climate.”

Greenhouse gases are one of the largest contributors to global warming. Mail services and delivery trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions. If we could halt this process, we could reverse much of the damage caused to the environment.

The world should focus on a circular economy to resolve the consumption crisis. This would require a system where items are purchased, used to their full extent, repaired if possible and finally discarded when it really is worthless. A circular economy would reverse the negative impact of materialism on the environment. Four key benefits of a circular economy are the creation of new green industries and jobs, reduced dependence on importation of raw materials, avoidance of environmental damage caused by resource extraction and less pollution entering the earth's life support systems. Black Friday is a system for businesses to make a profit with complete disregard for environmental health. Eliminating the tradition would save energy and materials that are currently killing the environment. By enforcing a circular economy, this could easily be possible.

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Edited by Sofi Zeman and Sydney Lewis | szeman@themaneater.com

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