Valentine’s Day is around the corner, which means buying a card, chocolates and flowers will be appearing on to-do lists across the country.
Now, it’s true that one card, a box of chocolates and a bouquet may not have much of a carbon impact. So why are we talking about it here in The Green Space column?
If we multiply the card by 144 million, the chocolate box by 36 million and the rose by 110 million, we can begin to see how environmental damage could be associated with the occasion.
Each of these romantic components come with its own carbon footprint, and what’s worse, the cards are put away in a drawer or tossed, the empty chocolate boxes are trashed, and the flowers don’t last beyond a few days.
Let’s start with the flowers. Your bouquet of a dozen red roses comes from the sunny mountainous regions of Columbia and Ecuador to your kitchen table in cold and snowy New England. When we talk about flowers, the biggest sustainability issue is how flowers get from their point of origin to retailers across the country.
During most of the year, flowers are shipped on passenger planes, but in the month before Valentine’s Day, hundreds of cargo planes full of flowers fly from the Andes to Miami. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, about 60 cargo jets fly from Colombia and Ecuador to Miami every day in the three weeks leading up to the big day.
These flower delivery flights burn approximately 114 million liters of fuel, emitting approximately 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Once the roses land in Miami, they are shipped in refrigerated trucks all over the country. Refrigeration causes trucks to burn more fuel, meaning they have greater carbon emissions than their non-refrigerated counterparts and use approximately 25% more fuel.
Additionally, most trucks in the U.S. still run on diesel fuel, which produces more air pollutants than gasoline.
Instead of a bouquet, why not give your loved one a plant that they can keep as long as they can keep it alive!
Valentine’s Day cards are a sweet tradition but on average 144 million cards are manufactured and bought each year this week. By now, we can all recognize that’s a lot of trees. Waste management companies and landfills often have strict rules of what can or cannot be recycled. You may place your cards in the recycling bin but unless a card is 100% paper or you can separate all the non-recyclable material (plastic, foil, sparkles, etc.), it still might end up in the garbage.
While it’s easy enough to get a card made from recycled paper, if you want to go a step further, what about a card you can literally give back to the earth? Recently, a new development in the greeting card industry has popped up in the form of “seed-paper,” or plantable greeting cards. The card paper is embedded with wildflower seeds so after a stint on your mantelpiece, rather than the trash, the card can go in the ground. Cards and flowers in one – albeit slightly delayed but a much more lasting romantic gesture.
If you find a dazzling, glittery card for a special someone, that’s just fine. But parents may want to hold off on sending your kid to school with upwards of 30 cards for the whole class. These will almost certainly be trashed that same afternoon for no real benefit.
The idea of “sweets for my sweet” makes chocolate an essential part of Valentine’s Day, ever since the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas considered it the food of the gods and a highly prized luxury item. The beans were so valuable they were often used as currency and to even pay taxes.
Unfortunately, wrappers are also a hefty part of chocolate boxes – some more than others. Even a heart-shaped box will usually contain individually wrapped candies.
Most candy wrappers are made up of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful materials difficult and expensive. Consequently, waste management companies and municipal recycling facilities classify candy wrappers as garbage. One hundred percent aluminum foil or paper wrappers can be tossed in with your normal recycling but otherwise wrappers go in the trash.
Cardboard chocolate and gift boxes can be recycled with paper and other light card paper (like cereal boxes) but remember to remove any plastic inserts and “windows” first. Metal chocolate tins can usually be recycled with tin cans.
To be clear, no one is saying Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be celebrated. Only that certain practices can be adjusted to be more green and to make it more special for all involved.
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So buy locally grown flowers if you live in a warm part of the country, give plants as gifts, whip up homemade cakes and cookies, make a donation in a loved one’s name, show love through acts of kindness and consideration, and send an e-card!
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