Composite image of 'black friday sale' sign and pile of rubbish
Key points
  • Australians are predicted to spend an estimated $6.2 billion over the Black Friday sales from November 24-28.
  • The annual sale period, which started in the US, has become a major global shopping event.
  • As shoppers bag bargains, advocates are warning of costs to the planet and fast-fashion garment workers.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are two of the , but as shoppers snap up bargains, advocates are warning the sales are harmful to both the environment and workers creating consumer goods.
For many shoppers, the sales offer an opportunity to buy gifts ahead of the holiday sales, but critics say they promote excessive consumption

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 Cyber Monday sales started in the United States, taking place the day after Thanksgiving over a four-day period.
Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, leaving many Americans with a free day on the Friday before the weekend.
Retailers took this opportunity to turn that into a sales day to drive profits leading into the holiday period.
Black Friday’s name was coined by policemen in Philadelphia in the 1950s and 60s because of problems such as traffic jams, shoplifting and even violence caused by big crowds from the suburbs flooding the city to shop over the holiday weekend.
It was later promoted by retailers in the 1980s with the connotation it helped shift balance sheets from deficit (red) to profit (black).
The name Cyber Monday was created by retailers in the mid-2000s, and was designed to encourage shoppers to buy online.
Over the years, the event has spread around the world, becoming bigger and bigger each year.
Last year, Australians spent more than an estimated $8 billion across the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

This year, Black Friday falls on 25 November and Cyber Monday on 28 November.

In 2022, research from the Australian Retailers Association and Roy Morgan forecasts Australians will spend an estimated $6.2 billion over the same period.

This represents an increase of $200 million on the 2021 figures and equates to $1,076,389 per minute.

How do Black Friday sales harm the environment?

Jeff Angel, director of the Boomerang Alliance, which works to reduce waste, says many of the items commonly bought during Black Friday sales end up in landfill, along with the plastic they are commonly packaged in.
“We’re finding quite a lot of products – like fast fashion, toys that only have a very limited interest and life, other types of short-term consumer products – unfortunately when they’re thrown in landfill that represents an enormous waste of resources and leads to pollution,” he said.

“The fact that they’re being produced at such a high rate means higher energy footprint and therefore carbon footprints, and then, of course, the excess packaging which in Australia is hardly recycled at all.”

A shop with signs saying Black Friday, save up to 50 per cent

Black Friday has become a major shopping event around the globe. Source: AAP

Those who try to do the right thing by placing unwanted items or packaging into recycling bins may also be unknowingly contributing to excessive rubbish and landfill, Mr Angel warns.

He told SBS News Australia does not have a strong rate of recycling, particularly following
“All of these products come in an excessive amount of packaging, in the case of plastic packaging only about 13 per cent is being recycled … we have a target of 70 per cent by 2025 and we’re nowhere near that, and if we’re not recycling then it’s going into landfill,” he said.

“We don’t have a good recycling rate of packaging in Australia, so you can’t use that to alleviate some of the guilt of buying something and then disposing of it.”

What about the people making these products?

Environmental issues aren’t the only concerning factor when it comes to Black Friday sales.

Humanitarian groups warn excessive consumption and production are also harmful to fast fashion garment workers, many of whom are not paid a living wage.

Lyn Morgain, CEO of anti-poverty charity Oxfam Australia, says the Black Friday cycle and increasing demand could be harmful to garment workers.
“The vast majority of garment workers are not being paid sufficiently,” she said.
“There’s no question that fast fashion and the commercial practices that accompany that cycle are not necessarily good for workers.”
Ms Morgain said figures show revenue in the clothing industry has risen by 18 per cent over two years, with profits sitting at $1 billion in the past year.
“The industry can afford to pay women properly,” she said.

“We need consumers to move beyond price as the only measure and understand what sits behind that price may mean a whole lot of things that if they knew them, they wouldn’t be comfortable with.”

How could Black Friday be improved?

As well as consumers shopping consciously, advocates say the onus is also on governments and corporations 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 businesses.
She says while many consumers and businesses are becoming more conscious of ethical practices, shopping events such as Black Friday remain harmful.
“Sales periods trump anything to do with sustainability, so businesses are just shipping out goods the best way 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 does lie with the consumer because a lot of big businesses are not focused on making the sales period sustainable in any way.”

Ms Sarkar says governments and big businesses should enforce more sustainable practices.
“It is a hierarchical structure, governments need to set up policies of what businesses can and cannot do, and businesses also need to start taking accountability … big businesses are still doing the cheapest and nastiest thing possible, and that ends up being single-use plastic,” she said.
“Single-use plastic is one of the longest-lasting materials on this planet, and it’s used for the shortest period of time, especially at times like this where there is Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and then Christmas.”
In addition to using recyclable or compostable packaging, Ms Sarkar says there are options for both large and small e-commerce businesses.
“There are a lot of quick wins businesses can do, like adding a plug-in to your website to measure the carbon you’re putting out,” she said.
“You can ask customers to add a dollar to offset carbon, you can talk to places that measure your operations, and tell you how to offset it, so it will alleviate a lot of that burden.”

The Australian Retailers Association has been approached for comment.


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