- Australians are forecast to spend around $6.2 billion on Black Friday sales from the 24th-28th. november
- The annual sales season, which began in the United States, has become a major international shopping event.
- As shoppers make bargains, advocates warn of the cost to the earth and fast-fashion workers.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are two of them but when shoppers do make bargains, advocates warn that the sale is harmful to both the environment and the workers who make consumer goods.
For many shoppers, the sales offer an opportunity to buy gifts ahead of the holiday sales, but critics say they encourage overspending
So as savvy shoppers save money, how are the environment and workers paying?
What is Black Friday and how big is it in Australia?
Black Friday and CyberMonday sales began in the United States and took place the day after Thanksgiving over a four-day period.
Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, and many Americans have the Friday before the weekend off.
Retailers used this opportunity to turn it into a sales day to drive profits into the holiday season.
The name Black Friday was coined by Philadelphia police officers in the 1950s and 1960s due to problems such as traffic jams, shoplifting and even violence caused by the large crowds from the suburbs who flooded the city for weekend shopping.
It was later introduced by retailers in the 1980s with the implication that it helped shift balance sheets from deficit (red) to profit (black).
The name Cyber Monday was coined by retailers in the mid-200s and was designed to encourage shoppers to buy online.
Over the years, the event has spread around the world and grown and grown every year.
Last year, Australians spent more than $8 billion in the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.
This year Black Friday is November 25th and Cyber Monday is November 28th.
By 2022, research from the Australian Retail Association and Roy Morgan predicts Australians will spend an estimated $6.2 billion over the same period.
This represents an increase of $200 million compared to the 2021 figures and equates to $1,076,389 per minute.
How do Black Friday sales hurt the environment?
Jeff Angel, director of the Boomerang Alliance, which works to reduce waste, says many items commonly bought in Black Friday sales end up in landfills along with the plastic they’re usually packaged in.
“We are finding quite a lot of products – such as fast fashion, toys that only have a very limited interest and life, other types of short-term consumer goods – unfortunately when they are thrown into landfills which involves a huge waste of resources and leads to pollution ,” he said.
“The fact that they are produced at such a high rate means a higher energy footprint and therefore carbon footprint, and then of course excess packaging which in Australia is hardly recycled.”
Black Friday has become a major shopping event around the world. Source: AAP
Those who try to do the right thing by putting unwanted items or packaging in recycling bins could also be unwittingly contributing to excessive litter and landfill, warns Mr Angel.
He said SBS News Australia did not have a high recycling rate, especially after
“All these products come in a disproportionate amount of packaging, in the case of plastic packaging only about 13 percent is recycled … we have a target of 70 percent by 2025 and we’re nowhere near that, and if we” don’t recycle then it goes to landfill,” he said.
“We don’t have a good recycling rate for packaging in Australia, so you can’t use that to ease the guilt of buying something and then throwing it away.”
What about the people who make these products?
Environmental issues aren’t the only concern when it comes to Black Friday sales.
Humanitarian groups warn that excessive consumption and production are also harmful to fast-fashion workers, many of whom are not paid a living wage.
Lyn Morgain, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Oxfam Australia, says the Black Friday cycle and increased demand could be detrimental to garment workers.
“The vast majority of garment workers are not paid enough,” she said.
“There’s no question that fast fashion and the business practices that follow that cycle are not necessarily good for workers.”
Ms Morgain said figures showed revenue in the clothing industry had increased by 18 per cent in two years, with profits reaching $1 billion last year.
“The industry can afford to pay women properly,” she said.
“We need consumers to go beyond price as the sole measure and understand what lies behind that price can mean a lot of things that if they knew, they wouldn’t accept.”
How could Black Friday be improved?
In addition to consumers shopping consciously, advocates say the onus is also on governments and businesses to improve business practices and recycling programs.
Anaita Sarkar is the CEO and co-founder of Hero Packaging, which sells sustainable and compostable packaging to e-commerce companies.
She says that while many consumers and businesses are becoming more aware of ethical practices, shopping events like Black Friday are harmful.
“Sales periods trump everything related to sustainability, so companies are just sending out products as they can and consumers are also consuming because it’s a good sale,” she said.
“The problem now is that a lot of the burden is on the consumer because a lot of big companies are not focused on making the sales period sustainable in any way.”
Ms. Sarkar says that governments and large corporations should enforce more sustainable practices.
“It’s a hierarchical structure, governments need to set policies about what businesses can and can’t do, and businesses also need to start taking responsibility … big businesses are still doing the cheapest and nastiest things possible, and it ends up be single -use plastic,” she said.
Single use plastic is one of the most durable materials on this planet and it is used for the shortest amount of time, especially during times like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and then Christmas.
In addition to using recyclable or compostable packaging, Ms. Sarkar says there are opportunities for both large and small e-commerce businesses.
“There are many quick wins that businesses can achieve, such as adding a plugin to your website to measure the carbon you’re putting out,” she said.
“You can ask customers to add a dollar to offset, you can talk to places that measure your operation and tell you how to offset, so that relieves a lot of that burden.”
The Australian Retail Federation has been approached for comment.