How and what we can buy to make Black Friday more sustainable

Pre-pandemic,12.8 million Canadians planned on cashing in on sales and spending an average of $362 on Black Friday. 2020 brought the largest spike in sales yet, where according to Shopify, store owners made USD $5.1 billion in sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM). This is up 76 percent from the year prior, and many believe this consumer trend is here to stay.

Black Friday may seem like a harmlessly fun shopping spree, but it has an incredibly adverse effect on our environment.

There’s harm in how we buy

With the increase in online shopping came a peak in demand that needed to be met—immediately. More people chose next day or two-day shipping, and Shopify adds that they alone had to offset 62,000 tonnes of carbon just from their purchasing platform alone. Each delivery, on top of the existing pandemic online deliveries, generated a lot of carbon... and that didn’t account for the energy spent making (or discarding) the purchased products.

There’s harm in what we buy

The top three things that are purchased during BFCM are: electronics, fast fashion and plastic products. With electronics, only 20% of e-waste is recycled and the rest leaks toxic materials into the air through the landfill. Fast fashion is known for discarding a truckload of textiles every second due to overproduction, and the tossed materials often contain microplastics that eventually pollute the ocean. Plastics are used to manufacture everything from toys to home goods, plus plastic is wrapped around the many items we ship. Billions of pounds of plastic are produced each year and with 91 percent of it not being recycled, the rest will end up in landfills and oceans.

How and what can we buy instead?

  • Think before you buy: Making a conscious purchase comes from thinking long-term about pieces and products that you’re buying and about whether or not you need them. If it’s a true need and there’s a sale on the product, fantastic! If it’s an impulse buy, let’s put a pin in that purchase.
  • Buy responsibly: Choosing where you purchase your product determines its effect on the environment. Shopping locally eliminates extreme shipping emissions, and buying from Facebook marketplace or other secondhand options gives pieces a second life rather than being tossed in the landfill. Although purchasing from a sustainable outlet has a higher price point, it often encourages us to be mindful about a purchase, the shelf life is longer, and the item usually decomposes naturally or is recyclable/compostable.
  • Upcycle or recycle content: Regifting isn’t a faux-pas for gift-giving anymore! This rule was cloaked in consumer culture, but this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. We also don’t have to wait for an occasion to gift pieces to our loved ones—gift that book you loved and write notes (in pencil) for the person you thought of, or share that shirt that didn’t work for you but your friend would love! The more thought that goes into the gift, the better.
  • Gift experiences: As tempted as we are to gift with our dollar, we can do this without purchasing a product while still supporting a local business. Gifting experiences can include anything from attending events, local theatre, a cooking class, pottery-making, or doing a puzzle together. Gift experiences for others but also for yourself; don’t forget the value in spending time with yourself!
  • Bundle ship: If you have to ship items that are on your “need it” list and you can’t find it locally, use a bundling option to lower the amount of times a delivery truck has to go out to your home.
  • Ask for sustainable wrapping: You can do this with small shops personally, but there’s a way to do this with large shops too! In the shipping notes, ask for no plastic wrapping, no additional packaging and to opt for reusable packaging if/when possible.
  • Offset your carbon: Be mindful about your carbon use by tracking it and offsetting it every time you use your car, an electronic or order a package. It will encourage you to use less and to find creative ways to be more eco-friendly.