Column Road Comment

Planet Earth vs 50% off: the modern dilemma

Unsustainable consumer holidays are polluting our society and our planet. Source: John Henderson (via Flickr)

By Karis Pearson

With Black Friday having reared its usual manic head last week, Cyber Monday is the next battle to contend with. It’s no secret that students love a bargain and I’m no exception to that, however, despite bargains galore, there are some crucial reasons why I will not be taking part in the biggest shopping holidays this year.

It is during shopping holidays that people show their ugliest side. The environmental catastrophe is pushed aside for a couple of days to allow our natural capitalist instinct to take over while the yearly shopping binge commences. Waste not want not campaign agendas like ‘No Straw Please’ and ‘Love Your Clothes’ are replaced with a more aggressive mantra: Everything Must Go. Meanwhile, the effects of this extreme capitalism are killing our planet.

In anticipation of the online shopping binge, there has been much excitement and speculation over what the best deals will be. According to The Telegraph, Amazon’s TV Firestick and Echo Dot – a convenience gadget for the home slowly reducing sophistication of the human brain – will be slashed from ninety-nine pounds to forty-nine. If we can truly put a price on the planet, could it be a fifty-pound saving on a gadget that nobody really needs? All I know is witnessing humanity react to consumer events like Black Friday makes me question whether the survival of our species is really in the best interest of planet earth.

Last year, Greenpeace launched MAKE SMTHNG week, encouraging people around the world to ditch shopping for making something themselves, or upcycling old things. The fast fashion industry is a hideous affair, and anyone who saw Stacey Dooley’s recent documentary will understand where I’m coming from. Before you decide to order a new dress for a special occasion, or a pair of jeans in the Cyber Monday sale, ask yourself, do you have something old you could breathe some new life into? The WWF offer an online carbon footprint calculator where you’re able to see the impact you have on the planet. Among the ‘food’, ‘travel’ and ‘home’ sections, there is a section for ‘stuff’. This is because the quantity of stuff we’re buying produces tonnes of carbon, both in manufacturing and in disposing of it as waste. This has a disastrous impact on our planet. Avoiding buying new by getting creative can be just how to help save your own pocket and reduce your carbon footprint, doing both yourself and the planet a big favour.

Household waste increases by 25% during Black Friday (and surprise surprise, Christmas). As it stands the UK lags behind our Scandinavian neighbours in recycling our waste and in fact, it recently surfaced that UK waste sent abroad for recycling has been ending up in landfills on the other side of the world. The amount of unrecyclable plastic that so many products are packaged in is obscene, and shopping holidays only sell more of these highly packaged consumer products. Remember Nintendo DS games? It was a genuine achievement how much plastic was ‘required’ for a game that was no bigger than a ravioli. Of course, many items bought online come delivered in cardboard or plastic packaging that is recyclable, but the amount of energy and water consumed in the recycling process is unnecessarily and excessively higher during shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This only exaggerates the need for us to curb our unsustainable culture of mass consumerism.

Whilst saving the planet isn’t on everyone’s to do list, saving money usually is. The hype surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday is in large part due to people’s desire to save some cash, but, what if I told you that quite often, these deals which sound too good to be true, well… they actually are. Many Black Friday price reductions are printed to sound like an unmissable bargain, but what a lot of people don’t know is that the ‘was’ figure printed on price tags is often inflated to make deals look better. Consumer group Which? investigated this and uncovered instances where companies including AO and Currys were among those guilty of doing this, in some cases totally misleading consumers to push their sales agenda. So, think twice before buying that half price TV, because deal or no deal, do you really need it?

You may shout your vendetta against plastic drinking straws loud and proud but what use is that when you’re stocking up on products wrapped dutifully in non-recyclable plastic. You want to save the turtle? Good, but think bigger, don’t focus all your energies on limiting your use of cups and straws forgetting about the impact your weekly trip to Primark is having. Think about that jacket you bought for half price on Black Friday, or the shiny new gadget you ordered in just one click in the Cyber Monday sale. Never mind the necessity of it, at a price like that a Bluetooth toaster was a must-have, surely? In actuality, most of us don’t need any of these products to live comfortably and lead fulfilled lives, and in consuming them, we make the lives of others less so. When consuming is a necessity, we should be doing so in smarter, less wasteful ways, but most importantly, we should be consuming less. Avoiding deeply advertised spectacles of human indecencies like Black Friday and Cyber Monday is the way forward.

In the words of Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club (yes, it’s a book too):

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

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