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: Black Friday and Thanksgiving waste have a costly environmental impact, which also hurts our wallets

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Shop judiciously this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Up to 80% of items — and any plastic packaging they are wrapped in — will end up either in a landfill, destroyed by incineration or converted into low-quality recycling. Similarly, millions of pounds of food will go to waste after Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

The allure of a deal can often mean that shoppers buy more than they intended. 

The bulk of our holiday consumerism often has a very short life, according to a recent report, Building a Circular Economy, released by the think tank Green Alliance and engineering students at the University of Leeds in the U.K.

That environmental impact can be costly. Black Friday is expected to produce 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from product deliveries alone — that’s the same as 435 return flights from London to New York.

“Black Friday is expected to produce 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from product deliveries alone — that’s the same as 435 return flights from London to New York.”

When weighing the impact of in-store shopping or online deals — Black Friday and Cyber Monday tend to offer a mix of both — another study from MIT found that the carbon footprint of online shopping was lower than the carbon cost of shopping in physical stores. 

But another report, from University of California – Berkeley, found that benefit was lost when consumers opted for expedited shipping. For its part, the e-commerce giant Amazon.com
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has advanced a series of efforts to offset its delivery carbon footprint, but experts roundly argue that it is excessive consumerism itself that may need a rethink.

Black Friday is famous for door-busting rushes for the latest electronics, which may sound at first blush, like the kind of big-ticket, long-lasting gifts that are smaller offenders to the planet. 

But U.N. findings show that only about 20% of e-waste is recycled, and when electronics are thrown into landfills, they have the potential to leak toxic materials like lead and mercury into the air, water, and soil, which poses a health risk.

No one expects the joy of giving to be eliminated, of course. And there are efforts that companies, organizations, even individuals, can undertake. At Carbonfund.org, for instance, shoppers can feel empowered to reduce the number of cars and trucks on the ground by organizing fewer shopping trips and requesting bundled shipping. Carbonfund.org also allows individuals to buy carbon offsets, which are designed to cancel or “offset” some of their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Food waste

This Thanksgiving, Americans will also waste more than 305 million pounds of food, according to a report released this month by ReFed, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste across the U.S. food system. 

“It is difficult to imagine an amount that large, but picture around one pound of food being wasted by every person in the country,” it says. “That is a serious problem that comes with some very damaging effects — and with inflation on the rise, the effect on people’s wallets will be felt more than usual.”

It makes financial sense too. This year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be approximately 20% more expensive than last year as many ingredients — everything from pumpkin-pie mix and whipping cream to frozen peas and frozen pie crusts — have seen a spike in prices. 

“An inordinate amount of food is wasted around the Thanksgiving holiday — some 200 million pounds of turkey, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes and 30 million pounds of stuffing will end up in trash cans across the nation,” said Joe Lombardi, executive director of the government-run Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. “With a little preparation and planning, this waste can be drastically reduced.” 

“‘Around the Thanksgiving holiday, some 200 million pounds of turkey, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes and 30 million pounds of stuffing will end up in trash cans across the nation.’”

Food waste is not limited to Thanksgiving. As much as 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S., according to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, a nonprofit environmental action group. Some 160 billion pounds of discarded food also clogs up landfills.

Consumers often throw out food that is good to eat. “Sell by” dates are actually for stores to know how much shelf life products have. They are not meant to indicate the food is bad. “Best before” and “use by” dates are for consumers, but they are manufacturers’ estimates as to when food reaches its peak. Manufacturers mostly decide the shelf life for their own products.

The Guest-imator from Savethefood.com, a community that aims to reduce waste, allows hosts to calculate how much food they need for the number of guests. ReFed also offers some advice for people to avoid food waste. For starters, it recommends that hosts have enough containers, aluminum foil and self-sealing bags so they can give guests leftovers, and advises cleaning out freezers to make room for uneaten food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper App, helps to reduce food waste by providing food and beverage storage information. “Store leftovers in small shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator,” the department’s guidelines state. “Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat [for] up to four days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, leftovers are safely frozen indefinitely but will keep best quality from two to six months.”

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