The real cost of your Black Friday shopping hauls

Alexandra Wong, Staff Writer

As the end of November rolls around each year, American consumerism hits its peak and crazed shoppers anticipating the holiday season run hungrily to their carts and computers to buy to their heart’s desire. Almost all Americans are guilty of this, being hypnotized by the sight of discounts and low prices, and ultimately buying things they definitely don’t need. Black Friday is contributing tremendously to this craze of consumerism in the US and its impact on the growing climate crisis cannot be ignored by consumers or by manufacturers.

According to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday in 2019. Though the COVID-19 pandemic greatly decreased in-person shopping, the craze didn’t stop. According to Adobe Analytics, Cyber Monday purchases in 2020 gathered a whopping $10.8 billion, the highest in US internet shopping history. Americans simply won’t stop shopping, and it’s getting worse each year. McKinsey Sustainability reported that consumers in 2017 bought on average 60% more clothing than they did in 2000, and kept it for half as long.  

In addition, fast fashion trends on TikTok and Instagram have greatly increased the culture of consumerism in the US, creating “haul culture”. When consumers click away on their computers, crafting their holiday shopping hauls, they often aren’t thinking about the environmental cost of their purchases. In some cases, people buy more than they intend to use, with the plan of returning a portion of it. While this may seem harmless, it takes a significant toll on the environment because of all of the plastic packaging material and carbon emissions created in each exchange.

All of the overconsumption and wastefulness caused by Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales creates a total of 25 million tons of additional waste, according to Stanford University Recycling. Some outlets do not even resell returned products and these items end up going directly into landfill.

In recent years, some companies in the fashion industry have taken a step in the right direction, decreasing their harmful impact on the environment. Companies such as Levi’s and Patagoia have invested in durable and recycled material as well as ethical environmental practices. Levi’s has also changed the attitude of their consumers, promoting their products as something of long lasting value rather than a piece of a microtrend to be discarded within a month.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage our consumers to be conscious that when they purchase a pair of jeans, that is not an isolated event,” head of global product innovation at Levi’s, Paul Dillinger, said in an interview with Fast Company. “The garment had an impact before they purchased it, in terms of people that made it and the waste that was involved in creating it, and it’s going to exist long after they’re done owning it.”

The promotion of consumerism and short lasting products by manufacturers and large scale companies is heavily contributing to the culture of wastefulness in the US. Even so, the excess waste produced with holiday shopping cannot simply be dismissed by consumers as an issue that they have no role in. Purchasing wild amounts of short lived merchandise just because they’re on sale should not be the norm for Black Friday. Being aware of your material consumption and finding ways to limit it is one of the biggest and easiest ways to reduce your individual waste this holiday season.