Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
I’ve always found it funny how Thanksgiving — the American holiday centered around being thankful for everything in our lives — is immediately followed by Black Friday, a day to go out and buy more things.
It’s almost as if the cozy feelings and appreciative sentiments that surround Thanksgiving are completely forgotten when hoards of shoppers wreak havoc on stores around the country, trying to capitalize on various sales. For many, the experience of Black Friday shopping in stores with these obscene customers has become downright uncomfortable.
This discomfort, combined with the desire to purchase gifts more discretely from family members in the home, led to a spike in online shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving — when people obtain some privacy back at the office. As a result, in 2005, “Cyber Monday” came to be, which created an entirely new holiday for shoppers that does not require them to leave their houses.
Comparing Cyber Monday spending to Black Friday spending is a classic case of the apprentice passing the master; Cyber Monday in 2020 grossed $10.8 billion, compared to Black Friday’s $9 billion. Both were record highs, a rather impressive — and unsettling — feat in the middle of a pandemic. While this doubling-up of shopping holidays might seem like a win for consumers and businesses, there is a clear (and overlooked) loser: the environment.
Without regulation, this consumption will continue to spiral out of control, leading to increased environmental pollution and the intensification of the effects of climate change. For the sake of the environment, we must seriously regulate the companies that participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports a 25 percent increase in waste accumulated between Thanksgiving and Christmas — which encompassed both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The increase in waste coming at the same time as these holidays is not a mere coincidence, and should be examined more closely. With more commerce taking place both in stores and online, there needs to be an accompanying increase in transportation of said goods — a sector which makes up 14 percent of the world’s ever-increasing carbon emissions. With all of this carbon, which traps heat on Earth through the absorption of infrared radiation, will only augment the effects of global warming — arguably the planet’s greatest threat.
Considering that more than 216 million people could be displaced by climate change by 2050, it is imperative that we make a concerted effort to decrease our carbon emissions. Yet, with 2020 Black Friday purchases up 21.6 percent from 2019, that seems unlikely without tangible regulation or a cultural shift. Until then, diesel trucks full of goods will continue to leave Amazon fulfillment centers every 93 seconds, as estimated in 2017, delivering more and more goods all around the world.
Unfortunately, many of these goods do not spend much time in use before they’re discarded. This is aided in part by toxic consumerism, which encourages people to frequently buy products and replace old ones before it’s actually necessary to do so. A recent study out of the University of Leeds found that up to 80 percent of Black Friday purchases will find their way to a landfill or incineration after very short lives. With increased shopping on these holidays, we will have to allocate more space and energy to waste disposal, leading to avoidable pollution and energy use.
It’s evident that while major businesses profit heavily after successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekends, average people will have to bear the brunt of the massive environmental consequences of this overconsumption.
In order to fix these destructive holidays, there needs to be limits on corporations. These limits could be more administrative, which could be seen through limits on Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertisements and promotions, or they could be more fiscal, which could occur through the implementation of a carbon tax on major businesses. This tax collected from businesses based on the amount of carbon they emit could then be used to subsidize decarbonization and sustainable packaging/shipping efforts, both of which would help make the commerce sector decrease its environmental degradation.
Encouraging Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping at second-hand stores could also help. which allows for repurposing and reimagining of existing clothes, appliances and furniture as opposed to buying new ones. Finally, we could promote Small Business Saturday, which decreases the amount of energy used on transcontinental shipping, and it stimulates the local economy. Regardless, there are several options available to escape the toxic consumerism that’s become so typical of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
It is clear that something has to change, as our planet cannot take the continuous pollution and waste accumulation that has become characteristic of Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. Perhaps the most effective solution would simply be returning to Thanksgiving, and recognizing what the entire week should be about: appreciating what we already have.
Anthony Liberatori is a junior environmental science and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.