I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, and it is not because I have been single for 20 years. On Valentine’s Day, stores are stocked full with cards, stuffed animals, and bozes of chocolate. Most of these products will end up in landfills within the next few months. Cards and flowers are among the most unsustainable gifts purchased for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, most cards cannot be recycled because they are covered in decorations and glitter, meaning that many of the 145 million cards bought for Valentine’s Day each year, according to Hallmark, are thrown away. There is no point in buying these unnecessarily wasteful gifts when more sustainable options exist.
Flowers are probably the worst Valentine’s Day gifts in terms of their environmental impact. The National Retail Foundation (NRF) estimates that this year, 37 percent of Americans will order flowers for Valentine’s Day, which will result in significant environmental consequences. The flower transportation process releases tons of carbon dioxide as flowers are transported from countries where they can be grown in better climates and produced for lower costs. Additionally, because cut flowers have to be refrigerated for preservation, this further increases their carbon footprints. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, if four billion flowers were shipped from Colombia, where we get many of our cut flowers, to the United States, 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide would be released.
In addition to the transportation process, the production of cut flowers is also environmentally harmful. Flower companies rely on pesticides to deter and protect flowers from insects. Pesticide use not only threatens important insect species such as honeybees, but these toxins can contaminate bodies of water through runoff, putting aquatic species and ecosystems at risk.
Once flowers are produced, purchased, and given as gifts, they inevitably begin to wilt and need to be disposed of. As they begin to decompose, they release methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. This worsens global warming and contributes to climate change. Additionally, with the amount of water that is used to produce flowers, it is wasteful to cultivate something that will ultimately be thrown away. According to a 2012 study from Kenya, seven to thirteen liters of water are used to produce a single rose. With more than 250 million roses harvested for Valentine’s Day alone, according to the Society of American Florists, it is undeniable that flower production has a significant impact on our water supply.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to flowers and cards that have lower environmental costs. For example, homemade cards are much more eco-friendly. However, if you are completely set on flowers, you could opt for a potted plant instead of a bouquet, as they are more sustainable and will last longer if they are properly taken care of. I would honestly take a succulent over a bouquet of roses any day.