For some, it’s a loathsome holiday of consumerism. For others, it’s a paramount part of their business, necessary to cover wages and bills. Despite a global pandemic, the 2020 Black Friday and the following Cyber Monday – a weekend of huge discounts – were alive and well, persuading millions of people to spend their money.
Though Black Friday is crucial for entrepreneurs to survive in these strange times, it also has a significant impact on our climate.
A World of Waste
Year after year, we produce massive amounts of waste – in the form of non-recyclable materials, single-use plastics, cardboard boxes, and redundant or unwanted gifts.
Despite a worldwide health and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are businesses that flourish, such as food and grocery delivery companies or other online shops.
As compared to the previous year, Amazon doubled its net income in 2020 and increased its stock value, adding to Jeff Bezos’s fortune.
The products we buy online are delivered in packages that we indeed can recycle, which doesn’t mean that all of us actually do it. A study by Professor Phil Purnelland and Dr. Anne Velenturf found that “some 80% of household plastics and textiles are landfilled or incinerated and nearly all electronic waste goes to low quality recycling when it enters the waste management system”.
Mismanaged plastic ends up in the ocean – as wide-range estimates report, there is between 10,000 and 100,000 tonnes of plastic in the surface waters. A large quantity may still be in the deeper waters.
In the last 50 years, the production of plastic has grown from 17 million tonnes in 1965 to a whopping 381 million tonnes in 2015. The most of our plastic is used in packaging – a part and parcel of online shopping that peaks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve every year.
Knowing The Problem
Researchers and scholars, like the UK-based organisation, Resource Recovery from Waste, are calling for a circular economy with less waste, highlighting the importance of not only recycling, but also re-using and reducing the products we purchase – be it on Black Friday or all year round. Combating climate change is a multi-layered issue to be tackled, our consumer decisions playing a key part in this big game.
Electronics account for the most of all Black Friday purchases. Later on, old phones, broken tablets, or other antiquated technologies constitute for “e-waste” – electronic waste.
According to a UN study, only around 20% is recycled. E-waste is “the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fuelled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair”.
With new, cutting-edge gadgets being released each year, the demand for new electronics increases, while the issue of e-waste has not yet been solved.
Looking at the staggering amount of waste and statistical data on the garbage we produce – especially in the Black Friday discount period – various organisations, activists, and citizens have show their discontent on social media and on the streets.
Voices of Protest
Surely, as the subject of climate change and environmental destruction has surfaced in the world of politics and is still a matter of political debate in search of solutions, not everybody is so keen on Black Friday discounts.
On 27 November, 2020, one of the trending hashtags on Twitter was #BuyNothingToday – people showed their discontent with the consumerist, discount-driven culture of consumption, signalling their stance on this global phenomenon. Regretfully or not, it didn’t stop worldwide online orders to reach an all-time high.
In 2018, Greenpeace called to join the Make SMTHNG Week, encouraging people to – instead of buying new products – create something on their own in the name of the three Rs: reduce, re-use, recycle.
Activists of the organisation argued that we are already “drowning in stuff”. Indeed, television ads and the capitalist drive push us to buy more, have more, and – as a result – produce more waste.
Last year, protests against Amazon spread across France. Consumerism’s impact on the environment was the pivotal cause of the demonstrations. In fact, some French lawmakers have been trying to push for a Black Friday ban nationwide. Each year, Amazon ships around 10 billion packages, contributing to the overall waste production.
Though Black Friday’s impact on our climate raises voices of protests, for a myriad of people it’s a do-or-die entrepreneurial necessity, crucial for their business to survive.
A Business Necessity
Because so many shops were closed due to pandemic-related restrictions worldwide, the importance of e-commerce during the Black Friday weekend in 2020 grew significantly.
People weren’t so inclined to stroll down shopping malls, yet their willingness to click that ‘buy now’ button was as irresistible as ever, adding to the e-commerce competition online.
Worldwide, on average, visits to online shops and their conversion rate experienced an increase, with up to +40% revenue in Latin America around noon EST – the rush hour of 2020 Black Friday weekend.
Industries such as health and beauty, sporting games and hobbies, home and garden, or fashion, saw their orders grow by a substantial margin. Black Friday online sales in the US have been steadily growing over the last few years. In seven years (2013-2019), their value sprang up from $1.93 billion to $7.4 billion – around 384% increase.
In the UK, the numbers have increased too, almost doubling from 2014 to 2018, peaking at £1.49 billion. Most of the online traffic takes place on mobile devices, and it’s slightly busier on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday. At the same time, between 2018 and 2019, average number of pages viewed and time spent on a page decreased.
A third of all retail sales take place between Black Friday and Christmas, Black Friday being one of the busiest days for online shopping, which makes the discount-abundant weekend crucial for the economy. Demographic studies show that Millennials and Gen Xers are the biggest Black Friday shoppers, spending billions of dollars on technology and electronic devices.
A Third Way
Needless to say, discounts are an annual opportunity to buy products or gifts at lower-than-usual prices. Even in a worldwide pandemic, with dozens of regulations and restrictions having been introduced, many a shop remaining closed, online shopping has taken over the Black Friday weekend fever.
When discussing our impact on the environment and climate change, throwing idealistic slogans around may sound persuasive to some, yet it has got no actual impact on our production of waste – especially plastic, e-waste, and packaging.
Our society is an astonishingly complex system, the economy being an inextricable part of it. Banning Black Friday or taking any similarly radical steps would throw a plethora of entrepreneurs out of business, possibly leading to economic regress and further crisis – something we shouldn’t risk in the already-uncertain situation of COVID-19 pandemic.
There might however be a third way – temperance. Want it or not, our culture is based on purchases, gifts, and online orders; at least to some extent. By trying to find the golden mean between buying and not buying, we can attempt to find balance and make educated and meditated-upon purchases.
Next time before you click that ‘buy now’ button, ask yourself twice, or even three times: Do I actually need this? The change starts from you, so make it happen.
2020 has been a challenging year on a lot of fronts. It has been for jobs too: