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As Black Friday approaches, environmentalists share tips to reduce holiday shoppers’ carbon footprint

holiday bow
JLS Photography - Alaska

Over 290 million people plan to shop either in store or online this Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. While this is great news for businesses, these purchases can put a damper on the environment.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League for Conservation Voters, said 23% of paper and cardboard ends up in landfills every year. The rest can end up being recycled — or pollute cities and towns.

Websites like Amazon exacerbate the issue, she said. Two-day shipping is convenient for the consumer, but this also creates more cardboard being used. Half of the cardboard that curbside recycling takes is corrugated cardboard, which most products come in. Fifteen years ago, cardboard only made up 15% of the curbside recycling stream.

Tighe recommended reusing whatever cardboard possible before throwing it in the recycling bin.

“If you know anyone who’s moving, you can also reuse that cardboard box to help out,” she said.

When shopping online, Tighe also said to look for companies that use sustainable products and buy gifts that can be reused, like coffee mugs and water bottles.

Cardboard and trash aren’t the only issues surrounding online delivery services like Amazon.

Tighe said transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state of New York. Another way shoppers can reduce emissions from delivery trucks is shopping local and choosing options of longer delivery arrivals.

“If you can, take the longer ordering options. That reduces the carbon footprint of getting a package delivered to your home or whoever you're sending the gift to,” Tighe said. “It kind of depends on what it is you're buying, but certainly if you're buying from an online delivery, try to use something that has closer distribution points and also the idea of having longer waiting times since you don’t need it overnight.”

With millions of consumers shopping on Cyber Monday, thousands of trucks are going to be on the road and more ships will be sailing to get their products to America. The emissions are going to add to air and water pollution.

She said there are “simple solutions” that consumers can do to try to eliminate as much pollution though.

“Some of the things that people can do to reduce their carbon footprint during the holiday is to carpool or take mass transit when you’re going shopping,” Tighe said. “Reduce the amount of traveling that you're doing and that includes planning your trips so that you’re efficient and you’re not going back and forth across town. Trying to get your trips all at once is more efficient than multiple different times and going back.”

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be the most affordable times of year to upgrade electronics. But digital devices are one of the largest recycled products over time. She said it’s important to know how to recycle them.

“Here in New York, we have a law that requires us to take back electronics,” Tighe said. “We know on Cyber Monday and on Black Friday, people buy a lot of electronics as gifts and those are all things that can and are required to be recycled. People can go onto the New York State Department of Environmental Conservations website to find out what manufacturers offer for as far as how they can recycle their goods that they have.”

Tighe said there are more tricks that everyone can do during the holidays to reduce carbon footprints. Instead of buying gifts, buy tickets to a show, a sporting event or a concert.

She said to make sure to bring reusable bags whenever going shopping, and if there is leftover food from Thanksgiving, make a compost bin in the backyard or community garden. And of course, she said to: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.