Examining the impact of consumerism and what we can do to change the system.
Black Friday, a commercial ‘holiday’ brought over from the United States, is the day after Thanksgiving and now marks the start of the festive shopping period. The origins of black Friday lie in the chaos created by millions of US workers being on holiday at the same time and rushing into the shops on a rare Friday off. As police complained, retailers were rubbing their hands at the huge profits they were making. Slowly the term black Friday morphed into a mass consumerism holiday as retailers offered discounts to attract the product hungry public into their shops. Once internet shopping took over from the high street it was only a matter of time before Black Friday moved across the pond and became a household term despite the UK not celebrating Thanksgiving or having a national holiday on the Friday! Not only has it come to the UK but globally it is no longer just a single day, many sales now extend across a week or month, with email campaigns starting as soon as Halloween is over, encouraging us to not miss out.
In 2023 it is expected that consumers in the UK will spend £5.6 billion (PwC) over Black Friday, with some estimates even higher at £8.56 billion. But how much of this spend is on items we actually need?
Black Friday Environmental Impact
Black Friday has dire consequences for the environment. From the additional courier services, resulting in up to 94% more daily emissions to the poor waste management of unwanted items. According to Waste Managed, only 29% of electronic waste caused by Black Friday will be recycled. That’s an awful lot of e-waste heading straight into landfill; leaching dangerous chemicals and gases into the environment, and increasing the amount of natural resources needed to produce the next ‘big thing’. They also estimate that this year Black Friday will produce 429,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – the same as 435 return flights to New York, just from deliveries!
But it’s not just waste management and transport emissions that have a serious impact on the environment. Professor Phil Purnell of the University of Leeds, points out that the transport emissions are “trivial” compared to those released during manufacturing. “Producing your average laptop releases 100 to 200 kgs CO2, and making and selling a shirt releases many times more CO2 than the shirt weighs!” Every time we choose new over reconditioned or repairing our own item, set off a change of events which do far more damage than we might realise. Each new item requires more mining and quarrying, habitat destruction from agriculture and building, release of greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals through manufacturing processes and of course emissions from transport.
A single mobile phone causes a devastating impact on the planet from mining alone. A study by Plymouth University concluded that to “create just one phone you would need to mine 10-15kg of ore, including 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 1kg of typical copper ore, 750g of typical tungsten ore and 200g of typical nickel ore”. That’s nearly 24Kg of rock for a single mobile phone, and that doesn’t include the overburden removed before reaching the economic deposits! This is only the beginning of the problem when it comes to consumer driven mining. Once the ore has been mined the rock is processed to release the mineral, we could write a whole blog just on that and the environmental implications so we won’t go into it further but if you want to read up on Copper extraction this article from EPA is a good place to start.
Every item which is purchased has a huge carbon footprint from the extraction of raw materials, the manufacturing, the distribution network and in packaging and delivering it to your home or business. Add to that that many black Friday purchases are unplanned and often replace items which haven’t yet reached their end of life and you start to see how encouraging this mass consumerism is having a damaging effect on the planet. Short term gains for long term pain.
If you’d like to know more about carbon footprints and climate change join one of our Carbon Literacy Courses.
Citizen Friday not Black Friday
Citizen Friday is a new campaign launched by Re-Action which will run alongside Black Friday every year, encouraging people to leave consumerism on the shelf, through more thoughtful action. It comes in three stages; Share, Repair and Get out in the Fresh Air.
It’s all about connecting with each other and using the power of the individual for the collective good. A calm, positive antidote to the chaos and calamity that comes from Black Friday. It’s a reminder to share skills, learn crafts, swap items, build communities and reconnect with nature, if we can do all that, we will foster positive action.
Sharing is Caring
Step one of Citizen Friday is to consume collaboratively. This means renting, lending, reselling and donating goods, not just buying them for ourselves and throwing them out when we no longer need or want them. How many lawn mowers are sat doing nothing for most of their ‘lives’? By connecting with others on our street or in our network we can create a sharing or renting community where instead of each household owning a lawnmower we can have items which we share between us. Think of the things you have lying around which are used infrequently – sticking with a garden theme, we can easily share pruning saws, hedge trimmers, rakes, jet washers, wheelbarrows and many more items. When was the last time you connected with your neighbours along the street? By setting up a sharing system you can form new connections, foster a safer community and help the environment! It’s not just physical items you can share, you can offer skills and knowledge too.
Don’t fancy sharing items? How about renting equipment rather than buying? There are rental sites for pretty much anything from ski equipment and tents to mini diggers and ball gowns. The bonus of renting is you get the thrill of something new (to you) but you’re not costing the earth in the process.
Sharing, renting, recycling and donating all leads to saving you money, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, slows down unnecessary overproduction, reduces the amount of natural resources consumed, saves space, fosters connection and keeps your money in the local community.
Don’t Despair, Repair
One of the biggest drivers of individuals waste, outside of the food chain, is consumerism. We’re constantly being told to upgrade, buy new, follow this fashion and this item will change your life. Combine that with a propensity to manufacture products that
aren’t built to last, and you can start to see why we all buy so many items. However, it doesn’t need to be like this. As a society we’ve lost the art of repair and forgotten the joy that saving a loved item can bring. Watches, washing machines, TV’s, chairs, clothes and much more can all be repaired. Saving you money and the planet from further damage.
However good we are at choosing ‘sustainable’ products, we can’t buy our way to better future, or solve the climate crisis with consumerism. Yes, when we need to purchase something, doing so with the environment in mind is the best way but most often we don’t actually need to buy!
Learn to repair, use a repair service and support businesses that are reusing waste items.
Fresh Air, Not Shop Air
Shopping releases dopamine, giving you a hit of happy hormones, leading to more shopping! Black Friday exacerbates this with a multitude of deals which gives us an even bigger boost of hormones as we perceive the sales price as ‘winning’. This is a natural reaction to an unnatural phenomenon, and it leads us to consume more and more, as we chase the good feelings we get from owning something new.
There is another way though, dopamine is also released along with serotonin and oxytocin when we spend time outdoors. Spending time in nature helps us to appreciate and understand the natural world more; giving us a greater connection to the environment and encouraging us to protect it rather that consume its resources and pollute its land, air and water.
From an individual perspective it’s also much better for you than sitting and clicking through the sales or traipsing along the high street. The combination of hormones released not only make you feel happier and calmer, they can help you sleep better, focus more intensely and feel more connected to people and places. Exercising outdoors also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), increases vitamin D and keeps you fit.
Citizen Friday the Sustainable Way to Start the Festive Season
As we’ve seen here, mass consumerism has a huge part to play in the destruction of our planet, and it’s up to us as consumers to make choices which reduce this impact. As we head into the festive season why not make Citizen Friday a new tradition; go for a walk, take items to a charity shop or knock on a neighbours door. Take a moment while you’re walking to consider how you can continue this new understanding into Christmas – when you do look for presents, which businesses are creating products from recycled materials, can you buy a reconditioned item or could you make something yourself? If we choose to repair, share, donate, walk in the fresh air, build communities, increase connections and not always choose new first we can change the way manufacturers and retailers behave. We will reduce natural material consumption. We will reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. We will improve our real social networks. We will have a positive impact.
What will you do this #citizenfriday ?
Learn more on this and how you can have a positive impact on our Carbon Literacy Courses.