The Truth You Should Know About Black Friday

Whether you enjoy the thrill of scoring day-after-Thanksgiving deals in store or prefer to take advantage of discounts online from the comfort of home, there’s something you should know: Black Friday is bad news for our environment. As companies slash prices for the kickoff of the holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, shoppers overconsume electronics, plastics and fast-fashion apparel — and our planet ultimately pays the price.

History of Black Friday

While shopping has traditionally surged after Thanksgiving, Black Friday’s roots only trace back a matter of decades. The term “Black Friday” (as used today) originated in the 1950s in Philadelphia, where the Army-Navy football game is most commonly held the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. When throngs of mid-century shoppers and visitors swarmed the city that Friday, Philadelphia police officers required to control crowds would begrudgingly call it “Black Friday.”

By the 1980s, retailers nationwide latched onto the term “Black Friday” and spun it to their advantage. Rather than using the phrase to bemoan the crowds, they exalted it as a prosperous start of the holiday shopping season when stores started turning profit (or “went into the black”). You know the rest of the story: blockbuster bargains, massive lines, and sales stretching into Cyber Monday.

Black Friday’s Environmental Impact

According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 164 million people plan to go shopping between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday this season. That’s a lot of people buying a lot of products, many of them used for just a season or two and then discarded. Smartphones, TVs and laptops are some of the most sought-after deals on Black Friday, and many of those purchases filter into the fastest growing waste stream on the planet: electronic waste, or e-waste for short. The Basel Action Network notes that 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.

Toys and clothing are also environmental offenders. Not only are most mainstream toys made from plastic (much of it unrecyclable), but they’re also packaged in it. Even more wasteful is the current trend of “surprise toys”, which require kids to unwrap multiple layers of packaging to get to their collectible figurine inside. These plastics worsen our global pollution problem and overwhelm our precious natural spaces. Meanwhile, cheaply priced (and produced) apparel fuels the desire for shoppers to constantly refresh their wardrobe and toss old clothing items, adding to heaps of textile waste in our landfills — 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 Anti-Black Friday Movement & Giving Tuesday

The news isn’t all bad, though. Some stores are taking a stand against the harmful consumerism of Black Friday. For the fourth year in a row, outdoor retailer REI will close on Black Friday, encouraging employees and customers to #OptOutside and spend their day enjoying nature. Another big-name outdoor brand, Patagonia, made headlines in 2016 when it donated 100% of proceeds from purchases on Black Friday to nonprofit environmental groups. (Patagonia always pledges 1% of its sales to environmental preservation.) Plus, there are plenty of brands to shop year-round that donate proceeds to nonprofit organizations and people in need, including TOMS, Cotopaxi and Bombas.  

Launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) is another heartening development in the wake of Black Friday and Cyber Monday mayhem — and a way you can take action as an individual. This global movement across more than 150 countries encourages charitable donations and community action, and it serves as a good reminder to get involved in causes you care about.

This Giving Tuesday, consider volunteering to clean up trash in your local park, starting a fundraiser, or offering your professional services for free to a short-staffed nonprofit organization in your area. You can also simply donate money to a charity. Be sure to look out for #GivingTuesday campaigns that amplify the impact of your donations: This year, Facebook and PayPal are matching donations made to U.S.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofits on Facebook (see full details of the campaign here). Give money to Oceana to help conserve our precious marine spaces, help The Sierra Club protect our natural world, or donate to any participating nonprofit of your choosing!

Photo Credit: Justin Lim on Unsplash