Black Friday environmental impact: what is the cost of our purchases?

6 December 2021 News
Black Friday environmental impact: what is the cost of our purchases? cover

Black Friday discounts have ended this year too, and they have left behind a long and articulated debate. The main topic on which we discuss, like every year for some time now, is the environmental impact of this recurrence.

From a single day dedicated to super discounted shopping in US, Black Friday has spread all over the world, becoming the symbol of savings on pre-Christmas purchases. From shops, to shopping malls, as well as for e-commerce, this shopping habit has invaded the world.

The perception of Black Friday online and in store

After the Covid-19 emergency, the online purchase of products has received a really important boost, establishing itself as the preferred purchasing method for younger generations, and beyond. The speed and convenience of shopping while sitting on your sofa has led many people to prefer this option, avoiding the more chaotic and confusing one in the mall.

Therefore, this year too, many brands from the most disparate sectors took advantage of the recurrence to discount their products and generate safe and fast sales in stores as well as online. Avoiding Black Friday is nearly impossible these days. The negative perception of the consumer at the sight of a website without Black Friday discounts, despite perhaps the attachment to the brand, would cause problems at the level of the Brand Authority, lower sales and general discontent on the part of the loyal users of the aforementioned brand. So, not adhering to the day (or even weeks) of Black Friday can be considered as a kind of commercial disaster.

Black Friday and the environmental impact

As the title of our article says, Black Friday has a very specific environmental impact and develops mainly around waste. The type of waste produced each year during Black Friday refers to single-use plastics, plastic packaging and cardboard boxes (especially related to online purchases).

According to a study by Professor Phil Purnelland and Dr Anne Velenturf of the University of Leeds (UK), “80% of plastic and household textile waste is not recycled, but simply sent to landfill or incinerated“. This obviously has a negative impact on the environment, because both disposal solutions are not “green”. Landfill can cause various problems, from water and soil pollution to the production of methane (greenhouse gas). In the second case, it is the incineration process itself that creates pollution.

The question of packaging

Most of what we buy, especially online, is presented to us wrapped in plastic, cardboard, or far more often both at the same time, just to protect the product during transport and ensure its integrity. These constitute the greatest waste of the entire period dedicated to Black Friday, a type of waste that increases the already precarious environmental situation. As mentioned previously, in fact, it is estimated that most of this type of waste is not adequately recycled, or it is not recycled at all.

Currently, out of approximately 86 million tons of plastic packaging produced globally, only 14% is recycled. When it comes to paper/cardboard, the numbers are certainly better, as shown by the graph below taken from a study carried out at European level (Cepi – Confederation of European Paper Industries). In fact, the paper/cardboard recycling rate in 2020 was 73.9%.

What is the solution then? Boycott Black Friday or, more generally, online purchases? No, the solution lies on the one hand in the conscious approach of the consumer during and after the purchase, on the other hand in the application of circular economy systems in as many commercial and production areas as possible.

A Black Friday with less waste?

There are two solutions that can be adopted to reduce waste or to make it less impacted on the environment. The first is in the hands of the consumer and of the State, and it is called “separate collection” to which we want to add the term “conscious”, the second is the business system based on the circular economy.

Separate collection

In many regions of the world separate collection is adopted, but each state, region or city has its own rules and formulas to make this necessary service work at its best. Often this is carried out at home and scheduled to allow families to organize the division of waste by category. In addition to plastic, paper and organic waste, there is also the most abused dry waste, a kind of black hole where every type of material is thrown with the usual carelessness of family members. “If you don’t know where to dump it, throw it in the dry bin”, this is a bit of the mantra that our subconscious communicates to us every time we find an unidentified object that we need to throw away.

Here, in this case “conscious” means stopping a few more seconds to think about the correct location of the waste, even wasting time to separate its components well. In this way the subsequent collection, disposal and recycling process can take place in a much more efficient way, avoiding waste and accumulation in landfills.

A business model based on the circular economy

One thing the world needs to invest more in is the circular system. Extending life of products and materials is the key for avoiding waste and the accumulation of waste. In the same way, recycling waste by producing new secondary raw materials is the step to make the economic system more sustainable and less impacting on the environment.

The linear system of “take, make, use, throw” must leave room for to the circular system, where recycling, reuse and valorisation of waste are the protagonists. We at Tecnofer have been designing solutions for the recycling of plastics for over 45 years, but over time we realized how many other waste needed to be valorised. For this reason we have investigated and studied other types of waste, such as packaged waste, and we have expanded our offer and brought our contribution to companies that wanted to improve their production and disposal processes in a sustainable perspective.

In conclusion

Black Friday is an recurrence that has gone from a local (American) tradition to a global phenomenon, capable of changing the economic equilibrium of entire markets. Thinking of abolishing it is impossible, as well as counterproductive.

What we can do to improve the impact of this mass phenomenon is to make more thoughtful choices both as consumers and as companies, preferring a more sustainable approach and investing in the enhancement of waste.