If your planning on waking up at 5:00 AM this Friday, or heaven forbid, tonight, and hitting up the local Walmart for some Roll Back deals… I would implore you to reconsider.
Today is, for Americans, Thanksgiving: the one day annually designated for giving thanks. Which, I would assume, means being grateful for what you have regardless of the amount. Especially in North America where Thanksgiving is celebrated, most have more than they need to begin with. However; we have come to mark this day of thanks largely by what comes after; a day where people are literally trampled to death trying to get as many things for as little as possible. Irony.
It goes beyond just spitting in the face of gratitude, it’s about the things we buy on Black Friday and the way those things impact the world. We are not islands, our homes are not islands, everything that comes in comes from somewhere and everything that comes in eventually goes out. Every television, pair of shoes, toaster oven, dress, drone, coat, etc, purchased on Black Friday was initially either grown or mined. If it was mined there is a good chance it was mined by workers, in extremely dangerous and toxic conditions, making a few dollars a day, some of them under the age of 18. If it was grown, the farmers responsible were most likely working in safer conditions but the agriculture industry is still rife with exploitation of migrants and people trying to get a leg up. Also, to grow anything land needs to be cleared: even sustainable crops such as bamboo, having become popular need hundreds of thousands of acres to produce enough to meet global demand. This leads to the clearcutting of existing ecosystems and old-growth forests. Whatever these trinkets are made of, they were then assembled, again likely by workers making a few dollars an hour for ten or twelve-hour shifts. You may recall news stories from 10 years back about iPhone manufacturer Foxconn installing suicide nets. Foxconn makes tons of consumer electronics, not just Apple products, and suicide nets aren’t generally a listed benefit at the world’s greatest working environments.
Eventually, the product comes into your home, but again, you, are not the final destination… In ten years, best case scenario: most of the things purchased on Friday will be deep in a landfill. Worst case scenario: they will be slowly leaching heavy metals into someone’s water supply. As with the manufacturing process, this will have an unfairly outsized impact on people in developing nations. Recycling plastic, especially, is expensive and toxic, yielding little return so in many cases the plastic we “recycle” ends up being piled on the shores of developing nations around the world. For more expensive things such as computers and televisions, the recycling process is still intact, some components can be melted down and reused. Metal can be obtained off of circuit boards for reuse; this is often done by a worker using a soldering iron to remove lead-based solder without any sort of breathing protection. Toxic fumes and runoff are produced at an industrial scale that keeps pace with global demand.
There is a cost to everything we buy on Black Friday, and unfortunately, as items become cheaper to purchase this cost generally goes up. It’s a cost that affects people, landscapes, and animals. The individual consumer is unlikely to see or be affected by this cost but it is real. No, your television is not going to move the needle in any meaningful way, whether or not you buy a $30 toaster oven tomorrow won’t have an impact on any of the people or places upstream or downstream in this process; your scale is just too small. But every shopper on Black Friday is telling Walmart; “Yeah, we want this junk and we want it for as cheap as possible”, and Walmart, and Target, and Amazon, and other retailers do tip that global scale.
So before you go shop, or before you put that item in your cart, reconsider.