The Current

'We can't shop our way out of this': Why all those Black Friday deals are costly for the environment

Is it time to ban Black Friday? Some lawmakers in France are trying to, on the grounds it’s a waste of resources and causes over-consumption. We discuss whether all those cheap deals have a high cost for the environment.

Lawmakers in France are trying to ban Black Friday to help stop waste

A Greenpeace activist occupies the window display of a store holding a Black Friday sale in Madrid Friday. His banner reads: 'Black day for the Planet.' (Paul White/Associated Press)
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Black Friday may be packed with cheap deals, but it comes at "a cost to the planet," according to an environmental journalist.

"It's one thing when we're buying products that we need that happen to come on sale, but so many of us are getting lured into shopping for stuff that we absolutely do not need," said Adria Vasil, author of The Ecoholic book series.

"All of this is tied to so much resource extraction: mining for the metals, and the plastics involved that end up in the ocean, toxic chemicals dumped downstream," she told The Current's Laura Lynch. 

"The U.N. yesterday said we need to cut emissions by 55 per cent globally in the next 10 years — we can't shop our way out of this mess."

As part of a series of demonstrations across the world, protesters from a climate activism group picketed an Amazon warehouse south of Paris on Friday. Their concerns are shared by parts of the country's government. French lawmakers passed a bill Monday that proposes banning the sales in the country over "resource waste" and "over-consumption." 

A demonstrator 'plays dead' during a climate change protest outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in South Africa on Friday. (Denis Farrell/Associated Press)

Vasil said businesses use these flash sales to create panic buying and a fear of missing out, but the consumers themselves shouldn't be blamed.

"If you are using this day to access sales, to access goods that you need that you couldn't otherwise afford, then absolutely take advantage of it," she said, adding that the day could also be used to buy products that are more environmentally friendly.

Rise of 'Green Friday'

Economist Jim Stanford said he disagreed with the emphasis on consumer choices as "either the problem or the solution."

"The reality is we're going to have to put in place rules and regulations and structures to limit pollution," said Stanford, director at the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute.

"I think we're going to need bigger structural measures, not just trying to guilt individual consumers into thinking: 'Well don't go shopping because that's bad for the environment.'"

What can be a convenient click away could drastically expand the carbon footprint of an online sale. 3:35

Vasil agreed consumers shouldn't be blamed, and said some businesses were already pushing for an alternative approach, in the rise of what she called "Green Friday."

"I saw a beauty company yesterday advertising in their window that they'll be closing for Black Friday because they don't want to contribute to the frenzied, consumer hype buying, that is pushing people into rash consumer decisions."

Other businesses are donating some of the day's proceeds to charity, or putting an emphasis on sustainability, she said. 

"I know one Swedish kid's clothing company said: 'We're not going to sell any new clothes today, we're only going to sell secondhand clothes, or rent second-hand clothes," she told Lynch.

"People are looking for alternative ways of spending this day."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ines Colabrese, Anne Penman and Joana Draghici.

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