The U.S.-inspired sales day that has shops splashing big discounts to bring out the crowds is falling out of fashion in Europe.
For many people, Black Friday is the best day of the year to buy a new phone, cheap flights or that coveted piece of clothing or furniture.
But a growing chorus of environmental groups, policymakers and even retailers are encouraging people to boycott the shopping tradition — citing concerns that it breeds damaging consumerism and carries a terrible environmental footprint.
“Our overconsumption of non-essential goods is leading us to destroying forests and nature in Europe and elsewhere, while also polluting the air, soil and water, which we depend on for our own survival,” said Céline Charveriat, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, a think tank.
Black Friday started in the U.S. in the 1950s, and landed in the U.K. around the start of the decade when local chains responded to online marketplaces offering big discounts to British consumers.
The trend hit continental Europe even later, with French and German retailers stepping up their participation only in the past few years.
But amid growing awareness of climate warming and global plastic contamination, an increasing proportion of European consumers think about the environmental impact of their purchases, according to survey of online shopping out Thursday from the European Commission.
The survey found the most environmentally conscious shoppers can be found in Southern (59 percent) and Eastern (57 percent) Europe.
Environmental organizations this week marked White Monday, a day to promote circular consumption. That got the backing of incoming Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who tweeted that “happiness is not about buying stuff, it’s about clean planet & healthy environment.”
French lawmakers on Monday adopted an amendment to ban Black Friday advertising, condemning overconsumption and the shopping day’s “disastrous environmental record.”
“Black Friday is a vast glory operation of consumerism imported from the United States in 2013,” the document read, adding that it’s “based on the advertising value of overconsumption.”
French Ecology Minister Elisabeth Borne weighed in to warn people about the pollution generated by Black Friday from all the extra delivery runs and packaging. “We can’t at the same time call for a reduction in greenhouse gases and call for a consumer frenzy like that,” she said.
Europeans have almost doubled the size of their wardrobes over the past 15 years, fueled by dropping prices and the rise of fast fashion — knock-offs of high-end designs that are produced quickly, cheaply and in large quantities.
U.K. shoppers are predicted to spend a record £2.5 billion on Black Friday, an increase of 3.4 percent compared to last year, according to research commissioned by discount site VoucherCodes from the Centre for Retail Research.
The report estimated that spending in the U.K. will be the highest in Europe — 29 percent higher than second-placed Germany and more than Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands combined.
However, separate research by online selling platform Gumtree suggested 58 percent of British shoppers intend to ignore the Black Friday sales. Almost half of those surveyed said they want to avoid unnecessary purchases, while 26 percent said they planned to spend less so as not to contribute to “mindless consumerism.”
The consumption of clothing, footwear and household textiles is the fourth highest contributor to environmental damage after food, housing and transport, according to a report published this month by the European Environmental Agency.
Producing raw materials from cotton to artificial fibers as well as spinning, weaving and dyeing require enormous amounts of water and chemicals. Once thrown out, over half of garments are not recycled but end up in mixed household waste and are sent to incinerators or landfill.
Even some retailers have started to speak out against the shopping bonanza.
More than 200 brands in France said they would boycott Black Friday sales and called for a more “reasonable consumption” among shoppers.
“During the Black Friday period, some brands are selling their collections at completely ridiculous prices,” said Nicolas Rohr, founder of the ‘Make Friday green again’ initiative.
“From the consumer’s point of view, this may be an opportunity to get a good deal but Black Friday makes jobs precarious by not paying manufacturers, brands and stores the right amount,” Rohr told local media.