Ah, February 14th. A day of love and excitement for some, and a day of total bleh for others. I am a proponent of platonic love, and so Valentine’s Day is a day where I can celebrate that in full blast. So, if you’re reading this, I love you!
But alas, such a loving day has such a dark past. Not only does it have a dark past, but it’s present day isn’t so pretty either. Starting from February 1st, perhaps even prior to that, stores have been donning red all over, with flowers and messages of love and sales. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), last year’s Valentine’s Day spending in America reached $19.6 billion.
This year, Americans will be spending a projected total of $20.7 billion, with an average spending of $161.96 per person.
What are people spending this $20.7 billion on? Well, it can basically be split into just a few categories: greeting cards, apparel, candy, flowers, jewelry, gifts of experience, and an evening out. Let’s break down a few of these categories and see the ecological impact of them as well as what you can do instead.
Valentine’s Day is United State’s second biggest card-selling holiday, behind Christmas. Americans spend some $7 billion dollars annually on greeting card, which is about 145 million cards. Most of these cards are looked at and appreciated for 3 minutes and then stuffed into a dresser somewhere, never to be seen again.
- The Dirt: The pulp and paper industry is a major carbon dioxide emitter and water user. A typical Kraft mill requires approximately 20,000 gallons of water per ton of pulp. The energy and resources (think of all the trees!) that go into making the cards, not to mention the distribution process, all amount to a pretty big carbon footprint. The singing and dancing cards that are so adorably funny are even worse. They have a battery attached, which in many places can’t be thrown into the recycling bin or even into the landfill. Think about the last time you actually ripped out a battery from a greeting card to throw out separately. I have definitely never done that.
- Green Alternative: E-cards are making waves again. According to the IBIS, demand for greeting cards is the fastest declining category of any other gift. In 2018 it was expected to fall 4.0% to $710.2 million. But if digital cards aren’t your thing, there are still paper options out there that you can buy without as big of a carbon footprint. Look for cards made out of recycled paper and soy-based inks. Choose cards that are compostable, or better yet, send a seed-paper card. After the recipient is done reading the card, they can plant the card and have fresh flowers growing. They’re also easy to make, so if you want to send an even more special card, try to DIY one yourself!
Sweet sweet candy, how I love thee. Apparently so do a lot of Americans, considering that in 2018, $2.2 billion was spent on sweet treats for Valentine’s Day. There’s just something about chocolatey goodness that warms people’s hearts.
- The Dirt: Cacao historically has come from regions of West Africa, but has moved to Peru and now threatens the Amazon rainforest. According to the World Resources Institute, the carbon footprint of a 200g milk chocolate bar produced from a cleared rainforest is equivalent to a passenger car driving 3.2 miles. A 200g dark chocolate bar has the carbon equivalent of a passenger car going 4.9 miles! That’s only from a single chocolate bar!
- Green Alternative: Try some fair-trade and organic chocolates. They taste great and are good for your conscience. They’ll typically be made with less added ingredients, and be generally healthier than other chocolates. If you insist on fancier chocolates, try getting them from an organic chocolatier, and getting them in person sans packaging.
Most of the cut flowers you get at supermarkets and florists are imported. 65% of flowers sold in the United States are imported from overseas, with Americans spending a projected $1.9 billion on them for this year’s Valentine’s Day.
- The Dirt: In the United States, roughly 100 million roses are imported for Valentine’s Day, which produces roughly 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, from field to florist. Since flowers are not a food crop, there is little regulation on the pesticide usage. As a result, cut flowers are one of the biggest pesticide-intensive crops.
- Green Alternative: Find local flowers, either at the farmer’s market, or a friendly neighbor who doesn’t mind sharing. Or, opt for a living plant instead of cut flowers. Cut flowers die after a while, but a living plant with flourish with love. Isn’t that a much better representation of your love?
Diamond’s are a girl’s best friend they say. Well, not for the eco-minded they’re not. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent $4.7 billion on jewelry for Valentine’s Day in 2018.
- The Dirt: The diamond industry continues to exploit workers, children, communities, and the earth. Miners work in unsafe conditions for as little as $1 a day. Diamonds fund armies and warlords and fuel civil conflicts in Africa, and it is because of this that these beautiful gems are also called blood diamonds. The diamond trade is based on artificial scarcity. Diamonds are only expensive because humans have inscribed some meaning to it. Gold also has a large environmental impact. One 18 karat ring results in 18 tons of metric waste.
- Green Alternative: Vintage jewelry! Find a pre-loved piece and get it cleaned and refurbished into something your significant other would love. If you insist on something new, try a different type of gem, one that has less of an gruesome background.
An Evening Out
What better way to end the night than with a nice evening out? Valentine’s Day boasts the second most popular day to dine out, according to the National Restaurants Association. With 70 million Americans enjoying a nice meal at a restaurant, a whopping $3.7 billion was expected to be spent in 2018 on an evening out.
- The Dirt: The most common date night meal may be a fancy steak dinner. With 70 million people dining out, a good portion of them will probably be having some sort of meat protein. According to the Scientific American, between 1971 and 2010, worldwide meat production tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global population grew by 81 percent. Replacing all beef consumption with chicken for one year leads to an annual carbon footprint reduction of 882 pounds CO2 emissions.
- Green Alternative: Forgo this traditionally meat intensive night and opt for a vegetarian meal. If you insist on meat, have chicken instead of beef, which has a significantly lower carbon footprint. Even better, spend the night in and cook a special meal together out of organic and local ingredients.