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Editorial: Consumers should be mindful of holiday shopping's environmental impact

Editorial: Consumers should be mindful of holiday shopping's environmental impact

With Thanksgiving passing and holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa rapidly approaching, the holiday season is in full swing and millions of Americans will flood stores to buy gifts for loved ones.

The desire to give gifts as an expression of care is a longstanding tradition, and it’s important to many people. However, The Shorthorn Editorial Board believes it’s important to keep in mind the ethical ramifications behind how we shop and to consider how our consumption of goods impacts the planet this holiday season.

The end of the year usually sees massive amounts of money pumped into the economy due to the holidays. In the U.S., holiday retail sales are expected to reach $1.3 trillion, according to marketing agency ROI Revolution. This means that consumerism is going to meet an all-time high, and Americans are going to be in need of a large number of goods to meet this high demand.

While shopping, it can be easy to only think of the product in front of us rather than where it comes from and how it’s made. But it’s more important than ever to think deeply and critically about this topic, considering the potential environmental impact of buying gifts.

The production of clothing in particular has extreme impacts on the environment due to its use of raw materials. Cotton for the fashion industry uses 2.5% of the world’s farmland, synthetic clothing materials require 342 million barrels of oil each year and some production processes require 43 million tons of chemicals annually, according to BBC News.

Additionally, fast fashion — the process of producing large volumes of clothing — is often tied to deeply unethical labor practices. Of the 75 million factory workers fast fashion companies employ, less than 2% make a living wage, according to a George Washington Law policy brief. The conditions laborers have to work under has been described as “slave labor” by the European Parliament.

Since 73% of shoppers in 2020 bought clothing and accessories during Christmas according to Finances Online, a financial product review site, the enormous impact holiday shopping could potentially have is clear. However, steps can be taken to mitigate the harmful impact of consumerism this holiday season.

Inevitably, many stores and brands host highly-marketed sales that are meant to boost profit, despite the lower prices of items. Rather than buying an item because of a temporarily low price, people should think critically about whether they need the item. Buying something one may not find useful or valuable just because it’s marked down could contribute to negative environmental and labor impacts.

Another important step to take to minimize negative shopping impacts is to take into consideration the ethicality of each company one is buying from. Brands like H&M, Shein and Boohoo are linked to negative labor and environmental practices. While these are popular stores millions buy from annually, it’s worth exploring whether you truly need to buy the items they sell or if a sustainable alternative can be found.

Emphasizing quality over quantity can also help make holiday shopping more ethical. While there are those who like to buy large quantities of gifts, the high consumption of low-quality goods is often bad for the environment. This dynamic is cited as a contributor to 85% of the 80 billion pieces of clothing made each year ending up in landfills, according to NPR and a George Washington Law policy brief. Ensuring that we buy goods that are higher quality and can last longer will help lighten the impact of consumerism.

Buying locally is also a good way to make holiday shopping more principled. The transportation of goods over long distances can contribute to greenhouse gas and higher carbon dioxide levels. Locally made goods tend to need far fewer resources to transport items to customers in the area.

Although some may say that focusing on the ethical impact of our consumer choices is not important, considering how our actions affect the people who make the goods and the world as a whole should be encouraged.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board believes that everyone can take steps to mitigate the negative impacts of consumerism this holiday season and make the world a better and fairer place to live in.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Hannah Ezell; editor-in-chief Dang Le; news editor Steven Shaw; Jonathan Perriello, life and entertainment editor; design editor Claudia Humphrey; news reporters Wolf Isaly and Ayesha Shaji.

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