Gifting the Earth for Valentine’s Day

It’s no secret that with the joys and high spirits of any holiday season also comes a lot of waste. The unwanted ‘I-had-to-get-something’ presents, the unrecyclable wrapping paper, the plastic packaging, glittery gimmicks – the list is endless. The impact of Christmas on the climate crisis has been well documented; consequently the past few years has even seen a rise in sustainable solutions for this festive season. Nowadays many people revert back to wrapping presents with brown paper and string, or making homemade gifts, and there are lots of online communities sharing tips for zero waste celebrations.

However, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Or rather, the huge sparkling heart shaped chocolate box. Oh yes, it’s that time of year and Valentine’s Day is here once more. Whilst the day itself can be interpreted in many ways: an opportunity to share appreciation and affection between loved ones, or an opportunity for corporations to rank up some extra profits, there is no denying that the day certainly creates a considerable chunk of waste.

According to Waste360, Valentine’s celebrations from adults in America alone generate more carbon emissions than driving around the world 3,993 times. The stats tell us that in the US alone over 180 million cards, 36 million heart shaped boxes and 198 million roses are bought for the big day.

On the topic of roses, have you ever wondered why we give them as a display of our love for one another? The beautiful tradition of sending a red rose to your lover started in the 17th Century, when King Charles II of Sweden learnt about the language of flowers whilst visiting Persia. However, the romantics of the 1600s didn’t have the issues of air miles and plastic as extra baggage with their gift. Today, the UK imports millions of tonnes worth of fresh produce, including flowers, throughout the year. In the month of love around 8 million stems of freshly cut roses, or 570 tonnes worth, will arrive at Heathrow airport, that’s triple the amount that arrive in an average month. Whilst these flowers are flown in from many places such as The Netherlands, Colombia and India, one country stands out as a big supplier of our beloved roses: Kenya.

With four in ten roses in the UK coming from Kenya, cut flowers are now the country’s 2nd biggest export, after tea, and the industry employs over 100,000 people directly with an estimated 2 million indirectly. Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport now has a dedicated terminal for flowers to keep up with the world's demand. Whilst the benefits of globalisation have provided these people with jobs, it has also meant that almost every flower given on Valentine’s Day has accumulated a lot of air miles. Each trip from Nairobi to Heathrow covers 4251 miles and a Boeing 747 can carry 90 tonnes of flowers, so with 570 tonnes worth of flowers arriving at Heathrow in one month alone this trip is sure to be completed many times over. Your bouquet of 12 roses might cost £2 from the supermarket, but it costs the earth around 6kg in added CO2.

And it’s not just the miles the flowers cover in transportation that make this token of appreciation not as eco – friendly as one would think at first glance.

In most florists, even the most basic of beautiful bouquets are wrapped in layers of cellophane or thick plastic. The more intricate centrepieces include plastic bows and ribbons, floral foam to keep all of the arrangements in place and plastic containers to hold it all together.

This plastic seems to smother the loved up celebrations at every turn, even the gift of words can’t escape. So many greeting cards are wrapped in a plastic film or have layers of glitter coating them, both eventually end up as harmful microplastics in the sea and our own food.

Just two years ago Poundland sparked controversy when it stocked the ‘gift of nothing’ for Valentine’s Day: a hollow plastic heart with nothing in it. The gift caused outrage with many people shocked at the blatant throwaway culture that Poundland was pushing for; the gimmick probably wouldn’t hang around anyone’s home past the big day and it will take over 500 years to break down. Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends Of The Earth, told the Press Association: “The rest of the world sees the need for only the most essential plastics, with a fast phase-out of all other wasteful plastics, so let’s hope folly like this goes unloved and doesn’t re-appear.” Much to the dismay of anybody who holds sustainability in their heart, a quick google search will show that similar plastic “Gift of Nothing” are still stocked on sites like Amazon and Find Me A Gift.

In a world so consumed by throwaway culture, how can we celebrate Valentine’s Day without damaging our planet? Is it possible to show our love to the people we care about as well as the earth we call home?

In Leighton Buzzard, we are lucky to be surrounded by small businesses that produce and source gifts in sustainable ways. So, if you want to make like King Charles II of Sweden and give the gift of flowers, support local florists who can tell you where the flowers they stock have come from and what they do to work towards being zero waste. Or there is always the option of finding a plant that the receiver can plant outside or in a pot indoors (after all, this means the token of love will last a lot longer)!

Not all florists are eco-conscious, but we’re lucky to have Bits and Buds in Leighton Buzzard who actively works to reduce her environmental impact. She often posts to her Facebook page about intentionally not using floral foam; saying in one post that the arrangements “should degrade as much as possible, limiting harm to the environment. I am very proud to have made this transition from foam and haven’t bought a box of the stuff in over a year now”. And if you really want to cut down on your air miles, Wild Rose Flower Company in Hoggeston near Winslow grows gorgeous, seasonal British-cut flowers without using pesticides! Tiny carbon impact and insect friendly.

If card giving is your thing, there are many solutions to the unrecyclable masses. Ever heard of plantable cards? They are the gift that keeps on giving – literally. After the receiver has read and cherished the card it can be planted in the ground, and in a few months your words of love will have come alive, often in the form of flowers, herbs or veggies. We stock beautiful wildflower seed cards here at The Good Life Refill from independent company LoopLoop.

In addition to buying handmade cards from small businesses, you could always catch the creative bug yourself. Nowadays there’s an online tutorial for anything, you could treat your loved one to homemade baked goods, vouchers or pieces of art. Even if you’re not the next Picasso or Tom Hunt, a card or gift made from the heart is sure to show someone how appreciated they are. To make life even easier, The Good Life Refill has some chocolate cake and shortbread cookies recipe packs available for you to buy: all the ingredients are measured out with a recipe card included, you just need to bake them with love. Pick one up this Saturday (13th Feb) at Leighton Buzzard Market.

However you decide to celebrate this day of love, I hope these ideas give you some inspiration on how to show love for the planet as well as your loved ones.

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