It’s a busy time of year. Thanksgiving is followed quickly by Black Friday, the day that the Christmas shopping season officially starts and a time when retailers offer big bargains on certain items. Just a few days later comes Cyber Monday, following the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, created originally by retailers to get people shopping online. So, as you might have guessed, it can be an expensive time of year and a period when levels of waste go through the roof.

In fact, between Thanksgiving and Christmas the amount of waste produced by American households goes up by around a 25%. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are focused around selling goods at bargain prices but when you consider that the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor estimates that only around 20% of electronic goods are properly recycled with the rest ending up in landfill, you begin to see the scale of the problem. Especially when you consider that in 2021 shoppers splashed out a colossal $8.9 billion on Black Friday and an even more dizzying $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday (with almost $3 billion dollars on phones alone).

It can also be a moral minefield. Ethical Black Friday shopping or enjoying a low impact Cyber Monday can be very difficult, especially given the materials used and waste statistics for electronic goods. Then there is Thanksgiving and the huge amount of extra food waste this produces to factor in, not to mention concerns about food production, waste collection and more.

So, how do you go about being more ethical at this time of excess, spending, and consumerism? Below we have outlined a number of ways that you can still enjoy Thanksgiving, and even Black Friday and Cyber Monday, without generating a huge amount of extra waste. Follow this advice and you can prevent your waste from going to landfill, encourage more ethical shopping habits and, whisper it quietly, even avoid buying anything new at all. All of which could prevent unnecessary waste and save you money.


Choose ethical brands

One of the easiest ways to enjoy ethical Thanksgiving shopping and to reduce your impact on Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to choose ethical brands and products. Start with the turkey. Around 46 million of them are consumed every Thanksgiving, which means a lot of water and energy has gone into producing them, and often not in ideal conditions. So, look out for USDA and Certified Humane labels which will at least show that your bird was treated well before it ended up on your table. Try and buy organic vegetables or local produce to reduce your Thanksgiving footprint. Or you could even try and grow some of your own. And below you can find more advice on how to cut back on leftovers, and how best to deal with any food you are left with after Thanksgiving.

In terms of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, choosing ethical brands is slightly trickier. Many of the materials used in electronic goods are ethically challenging but there are certain brands who at least try to offset some of the damage. You can find a more comprehensive list of the products and brands to look for here.


Buy second hand or used goods

Of course, there is another way to have an eco Black Friday and still get the goods you want, producing far less waste in the process, and that’s to buy goods second hand. There are plenty of second hand stores and websites that offer a huge range of goods or you can go down the private listings route, which offers better bargains but perhaps less buyer security in terms of guarantees.

Buying second hand at Thanksgiving is a little more of a challenge but there are other ways you can minimize your impact. Look out for reduced or short life span items on the supermarket shelves, or even second hand decorations. Every little helps.


Create or craft your gifts

Giving Thanksgiving gifts to friends and loved ones is a nice tradition but one that can be a little wasteful. So, this year, rather than buying your gifts, why not let your creative side run wild and make your own? Not only is this a great way to have an ethical Thanksgiving but making your own gift also really shows that you care.



If creating gifts from scratch is a bit beyond your reach, then why not try and upcycle other items to give them a new lease of life? Upcycling can also be a great way to enjoy some Black Friday or Cyber Monday ethical shopping. Rather than buying new, get your hands on an older model of phone, laptop, or tablet and have the device professionally cleaned and upgraded. That way you get the functionality you need without using any new resources, plus you prevent an older model from being part of the 80% of devices that end up in landfill.


Buy or use less

However, there is no avoiding the obvious truth about Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday ethical shopping. And that is that buying, eating, or using less is always the best solution for creating less waste. At Thanksgiving this means planning your meals in advance so that you don’t overbuy and end up with vast amounts of leftovers you can’t process. If you need help working out what you need for your meal, then the NRDC has created this ‘guestimator’ to help you figure out how much you will need.

Don’t go overboard and buy a turkey big enough for 12 when there are only 6 around the table. The NRDC estimates that 200 million pounds of turkey meat is thrown in the garbage each year around this time of year. That’s 25.6 billion grams of protein or enough calories to meet half a billion adults’ daily food intake. You need around one pound of raw turkey per person, which will then lose moisture during cooking to produce roughly five or six ounces of cooked meat. Veg portions should be around three ounces per person, with usually between three to five servings of different vegetables required.

You can also encourage your guests to bring containers to take away leftovers, or use this guide to Thanksgiving leftover recipes for inspiration. In addition, always remember to compost any leftovers you don’t use or use a suitable food waste collection service. Remember that 25 million tons of extra waste is added to landfills during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year so let’s try not to be part of the problem.

In terms of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while it is true that the retail sector relies on these times to bolster profits, you really need to ask yourself whether you need that new product or simply want it. The best way to cut down on waste, especially difficult to recycle waste such as electronic items, is to not make the purchase. Of course, if you really need a new item, then follow all the advice above about sourcing ethical Black Friday and Cyber Monday goods.


For more information about how to live a zero waste life, including more top tips about zero waste products and swaps, check out our blog or visit our shop.