Ask Eartha: Reduce Your Overconsumption This Black Friday and Beyond
Today is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, and I’m concerned about the environmental impacts of all the packaging waste and its effect on the Summit County landfill. What can we do about all of this overconsumption and waste? — Theresa, Silverthorne
Theresa, a recent survey by the National Retail Federation estimated that over 150 million Americans shopped in stores and online during the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday weekend. (By comparison, only 120 million of us bothered to vote in the most recent presidential election.) These sales typically generate billions of dollars for the economy, but this shopping bonanza also generates tremendous volumes of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. And that is bad news for our landfill and our environment.
Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday, mark the inauguration of the big shopping season and offer heavy price discounting and special offers to trigger a sense of urgency to consumers. This, in turn, triggers low-cost, high-volume impulse buying and — as a result — overconsumption of unnecessary goods. While some say that the burst of adrenaline one gets when chasing down the best deal in a way replaces the excitement of chasing prey in the jungle like our ancestors did, research shows that shopping only gives us a short burst of pleasure, and no lasting reward. However, the environmental impact remains and is all too real.
So, I’m left with the question: Do we really need all this stuff? A huge fraction of goods purchased during Black Friday and Cyber Monday are things people don’t need. Rather, they are things we just think we need. This overconsumption leads to waste that sits in landfills indefinitely. In fact, did you know that the Summit County Resource Allocation Park — our landfill and recycling facility — may only have enough space to last until 2040? What then?
In a time where our oceans are choking on plastic waste, our air is being poisoned with exhaust fumes and our society promotes excessive consumption, perhaps there are more resourceful methods of engaging in the ritual of gift exchange. Besides the obvious solution of not purchasing any material gifts this shopping season, the following are some great alternatives.
GET OUTSIDE, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
Every day is better when you #OptOutside. This universal movement began as an alternative to Black Friday and encourages people to spend more time outside, specifically on this one day. REI closes its doors and pays its employees to #OptOutside on Black Friday and asks that you do, too.
DON’T BUY, REPAIR AND REPURPOSE INSTEAD
Along the lines of Patagonia’s “Anti” Black Friday campaign to repair your clothing instead of buying new, how about resisting the shopping mall altogether and repurposing what you already own? You could even visit a secondhand store and find an item to turn into a perfect gift. You’ll be doing a huge favor to the environment by reducing this crazy culture of consumption and saving precious space in our landfills.
Along those same lines, when wrapping your gifts, use reusable and recyclable products. Gift wrappers are typically only used once, while newspapers, old shopping bags or even clothes can be repurposed in a fun and creative way. And skip the bows and ribbons — these decorative items aren’t recyclable and end up straight in the landfill.
CHOOSE DURABILITY OVER DISCOUNTS
Cheaply made goods last a much shorter time than quality products and end up taking up valuable space in the landfill sooner than later.
CHOOSE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PRODUCTS
When purchasing products, try to find the green alternatives. Energy Star ratings on electronic devices will save you energy and money. Products that are made from recycled or eco-friendly materials help preserve the environment. Reusable bags to store all of your items when shopping cuts down on plastic waste.
SUPPORT SMALL AND LOCAL BUSINESS
Taking a stroll down Main Street in Breckenridge or Frisco to do your shopping will reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding driving or shipping. You will also be helping local businesses grow by giving back to the community and purchasing locally produced goods that are more conscious than the big brands.
Finally, gift experiences rather than things — fitness membership, a day at the spa, an adventure trip (don’t forget to offset your emissions). Along the same lines, you can choose to put your wallet away and give your time instead through volunteering.
Theresa, these are just a few of my favorite ideas for reducing consumption and waste this holiday season. This year, may the only excess you indulge in be the food!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.