Black Friday is here once again, ushering in a frenzied period of marketing campaigns, bargain hunting, and online shopping sprees. But with all that buying, is there a hidden cost to the environment?
Environmental activists have long campaigned against consumption culture - and now they are training their sights on the phenomenon imported from the United States. Some argue Black Friday is a celebration of buying things for the sake of buying things. As it fuels unnecessary consumption of goods, the environment takes a hit.
“The problem is the environmental impact of the production, transport and waste created by these products,” said Viola Wohlgemuth, a Greenpeace Germany campaigner focusing on over-consumption.
She told Euronews most people in Germany hadn’t even heard of Black Friday three years ago, but now it is ubiquitous. “The value of the product and the resources used to make it gets totally lost in that whole idea,” she argues.
“The whole online business model creates more delivery and packages, causing a huge impact to the climate. “
Anton Lazarus, from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), warned “the level of consumption we have at the moment is totally unsustainable”. He told Euronews that society needs to move towards a circular economy, where products aren’t just bought, used for a short period of time, and discarded only to be replaced with new products.
Electronics are one of the main culprits. According to the UN, the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. Only 20% of this is formally recycled.
A 2014 Eurobarometer survey suggested 77% of EU citizens would rather repair their goods than to buy new ones. However, often replacement parts are not made available by manufacturers, while some products are built to be almost impossible to repair once broken. This ties in with the issue of planned obsolescence, where a product is designed to stop working after a certain period of time. All of these are design tactics to get people to buy more products, which in turn contributes to environmental harm.
“The right to repair is vital - extending the lifetime of many of the sort of products that we see being sold on Black Friday, like mobile phones, televisions etcetera,” said Lazarus.
“Ploy is the word for Black Friday. A lot of deals aren't even really as exciting as the retailers are trying to make them appear. Lots of old stock being shifted. What consumers want is better products that will last longer. People have had it with products that break so easily.”
Buy Nothing Day
Black Friday is coming under fire not only from activists, but also from governments. On Tuesday French parliamentarians passed an amendment to the country’s anti-waste law that aims to ban publicity campaigns for Black Friday.
The amendment blasted the concept for overconsumption and its "disastrous environmental record”.
Brands are finding traction on social media by publicly rejecting the shopping day. French clothing company Faguo formed a collective with 600 other French brands, refusing to take part in Black Friday to argue for reasoned and responsible consumption.
Named Make Friday Green Again, the campaign hits out at Black Friday for promoting overconsumption, which in turn is hurting the environment.
Anton Lazarus and his colleagues at the EEB advocate an alternative to Black Friday too.
“Buy Nothing Day is about making a decision other than buying something new,'' he said. “Can you borrow the thing you need instead? Or repair something you already have? These should be the first options before deciding to buy something new."