Since 1966 when the name was first coined, consumerism-driven Black Friday seeks to convince holiday shoppers to buy as much as feasibly possible. From fashion to tech brands, large corporations thrive off of the chaos and frantic behavior of buyers hoping to knock out their holiday gift lists through seemingly affordable deals. Though consumers may succeed in doing so, the carbon footprint left behind is becoming increasingly irreversible. Not to mention, the horrific treatment of workers creating such products only worsens with time.
Both composing 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions and holding the title of the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, the fashion industry is devastating people and the planet one day at a time. As a society, we purchase 400% more clothing than we did 20 years ago. 85% of that clothing ends up in landfills with little to no use at all, as the average U.S. resident throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually, feeding into waste streams and landfills. In attaining such statistics, the fast fashion industry creates an illusion of nonexistent trends to trick buyers into purchasing an item “needed” in order to fit in, fueling a desire to constantly improve their wardrobe and toss old clothing. Unbeknownst to many customers, this cheaply priced apparel is unethically produced by workers typically paid only two to three cents an hour. In the United States, the fast fashion industry utilizes the labor of undocumented and unfairly treated workers in underground garment factories. To name a few, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Shein, and Zaful are all culprits to avoid. Many of these companies create garments made from polyester and acrylic, which are both synthetic fabrics that shed microfibers through continuous use. To visualize, right now there are more microplastics in our oceans than there are stars in the galaxy. On average, U.S. and Canadian households release approximately 870 tons of those ocean-bound plastic microfibers from laundry alone. The fast fashion industry, powered especially by Black Friday and holiday shopping, immensely contributes to the social dilemma of rampant consumerism and its continued exploitation of people and the planet.
As some of the season’s biggest deals are usually found in smartphones, laptops, and TVs, electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. At the hands of large tech corporations marketing schemes, these items are discarded after only a season or two, regardless of remaining productivity and available use. A majority of tech products contain the damaging triad of lead, mercury, and bisphenol-A (BPA). When electronic devices containing these elements are disposed of improperly, the toxins can soak into the soil and threaten the state of the environment. Not limited to e-waste and fast fashion, detrimental environmental impacts can be found largely in one of the most sought out products of the holidays: toys. Depending on the item, a bulk of mainstream toys sold consist of plastic and/or packaged with unnecessary amounts of plastic. A more recent sensation, the unwrapping of “surprise toys” contribute to the growing plastic problem through the layers of plastic packaging surrounding the collectible gift within. Needless to say, plastics both exacerbate the global pollution problem and harm countless natural terrestrial and marine spaces. With the National Retail Federation estimating 164 million people planning to shop this season, environmental and moral concerns only grow. The US post office additionally estimates a whopping 900 million packages and 15 billion envelopes will be sold during the holidays.
Before condemning holiday Black Friday shoppers of these industries and corporations, keep in mind your privilege. If you can boycott fast fashion brands and shop from sustainable yet predominantly more expensive ones, do so. However, it is not your place to shame those who cannot. Low-income and marginalized communities rely on many of these companies due to their cheap prices. With said privilege, do your best to support sustainable and smaller businesses, BIPOC brands, ethical brands, and thrift shops this season. In addition, there is an opportunity to consume less than you would normally and find alternative gifts this year. Though individual action might not demonstrate immediate change, doing so illustrates a message to large corporations and government institutions to take responsibility for their role in the climate crisis and encourages them to create tangible social and environmental change. Happy holidays, and don’t forget to shop small and shop local!
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