Everyone loves Black Friday. But the throw-away culture that comes from discounting and sales is bad for the environment. So can a sale ever be ethical? And what is the impact of all these discounts across so much of what we shop?
The easiest solution to concerns about discount sales is of course to avoid them. But realistically, that’s unlikely to be a desirable or maintainable stance. The good news is that there are plenty of things we can all do to limit our impact on the environment, and send a message to those offering huge discounts on useless items to rethink their approach. Because the truth is, a throw-away consumer culture just isn’t sustainable.
A clothes addiction
In 2018 UK consumers spent over £60 billion on clothes collectively. That’s a lot of spare jumpers, and sadly second-hand and charity stores can take only so much. Up to 95% of the textiles that are thrown into landfills each year could be recycled. And even if you do want to shop ethically, you’re stepping into a minefield trying to navigate the best materials. Natural fibres are not necessarily better than synthetic, as fibre choice is only one part of a complex picture. Choosing organic over non-organic fabric is better, but still has the problem of requiring a large amount of water and the impact of the dyeing process is worse than with synthetic materials.
With 80-85% of electronic products discarded into landfills or incinerators, and only 12.5% of e-waste currently recycled, it’s not hard to see how our obsession with the latest tech is costing the planet. A large number of what is labelled as “e-waste” is not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery. And with production costs falling and repairs costs typically the same as or more than buying a new device, there are some real challenges in turning the tide to a more sustainable future.
Enter the ethical shopper
Before resigning yourself to doom and gloom, there is a solution to many of the issues that a throw-away culture presents. First and foremost is carefully choosing where you buy from. Shopping with companies who promote local products, plastic-free and sustainable options, as Farmdrop does, will do a lot to limit the carbon footprint of what you purchase. We have options for recycled wrapping paper, water bottles, and even biodegradable coffee pods.
If you do need to replace that old phone or laptop, and it’s still usable then look at the second-hand market to avoid it ending up in landfill. If it’s broken beyond repair then try looking for local recyclers, who don’t transfer waste to another country and instead handle it here in the UK. Much the same advice can apply to clothes, along with lots of other options. You can also look into “upcycling” and transforming your old clothes into something new – not to mention saving some pennies in the process.
And if you can’t resist those sales, then there’s the #30Wears challenge, started by Livia Firth of EcoAge to encourage us to only buy an item we know we’ll wear at least 30 times. In fact, this can be a great help when shopping for anything. By ensuring we use discount sales to buy the things we know we’ll use again and again, or things that are highly consumable, with limited plastic, it is possible to enjoy the bargains, without impacting the planet.