The holiday shopping frenzy started early this year. I hadn’t even emerged from my Halloween weekend-induced exhaustion this time when retailers began filling my inbox with discounts and claiming, “Black Friday starts NOW!” I’m not going to lie—when I saw those emails, my mind started racing. I mean, 60% off cashmere sweaters? My budget is slim this year, but this is a deal I cannot resist. One for my mom, one for me. Cart. Checkout. Done! The following day, cue the buyer’s remorse.
We’ve all been there, and it feels like a bad hangover for your bank account. It feels even worse when you learn that Americans generate over 5 billion pounds of trash from returned and unwanted goods during the holiday season. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans add about 1 million tons of trash to landfills each week, including a total of 2.3 million pounds of holiday wrap, which is enjoyed for about 60 seconds.1,2,3
Billions Wasted Each Year
In 2019, we spent around $15.2 billion on unwanted holiday gifts, and experts estimate that retailers throw away about a quarter of their returns. Only 5% of all plastic ever gets recycled, and we can’t recycle any Christmas items with glitter, metallic foil, or synthetic materials like nylon and polyester cannot be recycled. Every year those numbers grow.4,5,6
That’s not just a tragedy for our planet; it’s a tragic waste of money. It’s a huge, growing pile of “forever trash” polluting our air, rivers, and oceans that we are passing down to our children.
But don’t despair! The good news is that there’s an antidote to the unhinged holiday shopping madness, and it’s called Green Friday. Green Friday is like Black Friday, just not at the planet’s expense or the people producing the goods. Do you have to give up on deals? Absolutely not. You can shop sustainably without sacrificing fun, style, or budget.7
I like to think of Green Friday as more of a mental framework versus Black Friday, which is a specific date on the calendar where we stampede over each other and spend twice as much as we intended to. So, where do you start? With thoughtfulness.
Tips and Tricks for Green Friday
1. Make (and Follow) a List
Budgets are tight this year. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store and Supermarket Sweep the shelves with no plan, would you? The same applies to gifting. Write down who you need to buy gifts for and think about what they would appreciate and use. Take a deep breath when the discounts start tempting you and stick to your list.
2. Think Outside the Box (and Your Wallet)
Does grandma need another cashmere sweater, or would she enjoy it more if you “gifted” her a day to help her clean out her closet? Would your son or daughter enjoy a special outing with you? Instead of buying that extra plastic toy to fill space under the tree, consider giving them a day when they get to pick their adventure. Gifting experiences instead of things is better for the planet and your wallet, and an additional benefit is it can bring you closer to friends and family.
3. Look at the Ingredients and Materials
An excellent place to start if you’re looking for cleaner ingredients is Made Safe. Consider what’s on the outside, not just the inside, and try to choose refillable products or products packaged in glass or aluminum, not plastic, because they are easier to recycle. Choose natural fibers like organic cotton over polyester and nylon when looking at clothing. Not only are polyester and nylon made from fossil fuels, but they also shed microfibers, and they don’t break down in the landfill.
4. Shop the Right Place, At the Right Time
Does the item match your list? Is there a more sustainable version out there? Can you buy it locally to save on shipping materials? A lot of big retailers have earth-friendly options available. Check out Clean at Sephora or Target Clean for healthier items for you and your family. The Cool Down has shopping recommendations and gift guides from hundreds of sustainable brands that have been evaluated based on ingredients and packaging, many of which are available online and at local stores.
If you’re ordering from Amazon, you can shop Climate Pledge Friendly brands. A helpful Chrome plugin, Finch, will also rate Amazon products across sustainability, health, and supply chain criteria. Sign up for email or text alerts from the brands you discover, and when you see the discount pop up for the item you’re looking for, it’s time to pounce!
5. Think About Your Presentation
Remember the 2.3 million pounds of holiday wrap that go into the landfill every year? Green Friday doesn’t stop with the gift inside the box. Consider reusable gift wrapping, which is a no-waste option. I ordered this personalized Santa Sack for my two boys when they were toddlers. They are 7 and 8 years old, and it’s become something they still get excited about seeing under the tree. I wrapped my sisters’ gifts last year in a dark red linen laundry bag, tied fresh white roses and a sprig of pine in the drawstring, and it was so pretty. Plus, they can use the bag for traveling or closet storage. You can also breathe new life into an old gift bag with flowers!
Shiki Wrap makes pre-cut pieces of fabric that you can wrap gifts in Furoshiki style, and you can also use this method with remnant material from the fabric store or a (new and clean) square-shaped dishcloth. If you’re a wrapping paper kind of gift-giver (I get it!), look for gift wrap made from 100% recycled paper, and skip the metallic foil, flocking, or glitter. I love this recycled, compostable gift wrap from Wrappily.
Green Friday is a conscious shopping practice extending well beyond the holidays. Once you start thinking differently about consumption and realize how easy it is to shop smarter for your health, budget, and planet, you won’t want to return to your old ways. And you’ll feel better about the future you’re leaving for your children.