Valentine’s Day is coming up, which means that the color red seems to be pretty much everywhere you look and heart shaped balloons, chocolates and cards are appearing all around us. A Day that was set up to send poems and messages of love and gratitude to loved ones, has turned into a billion dollar industry creating waste all round.
The History of Valentine’s Day
The legend surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day has always been shrouded in mystery, as the Catholic Church recognizes not one, but three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One of the three Valentine’s was a third century Roman priest who defied the Emperors orders (who had outlawed marriage for young men), by continuing to perform marriage ceremonies in secret. As a consequence of his law breaking, Emperor Claudius II ordered Valentine to be put to death. Other versions of the legend regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day, suggest that before being killed, Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. Behind bars and in love, it is alleged that he would sign off on notes and letters to his beloved with the phrase “From your Valentine”.
Whatever the true identity and the true story behind Saint Valentine, it’s fair to say that all the legends tied to February 14th have to do with a romantic heroic figure who sympathized with love and lovers.
What it’s become
Today Valentine’s Day is less about heroic and law breaking gestures, and more about showing your significant other affection through materialistic gift giving. According to the National Retail Federation this year those celebrating the holiday said they plan to spend an average of $196.31, which is up 21% over last year’s previous record of $161.96. The overall spending for the day is expected to come up to a total of $27.4 billion, 32% more than last year’s record $20.7 billion. According to this data, the cost of spending has rises because people now not only tend to buy gifts and cards for their partner, but for friends, family, co-workers and even pets!
Apart from having become a day of spending, Valentine’s Day has also unfortunately become a day of waste. Obviously we’re not against buying a loved one a gift, but does a holiday about love really have to have such a huge negative impact on our planet?
The environmental cost of flowers alone is extraordinary. The flower industry is surprisingly destructive, from the heavy pesticides use, to the carbon emission of delivery drivers, to the amount of transparent or colorful wrapping used to sell the bouquets. Chocolate, another big staple of Valentine’s Day, also has a big environmental impact on our planet because cocoa production is widely associated with deforestation. Add the paper used for cards, or for wrapping up gifts, or useless packaging, and the whole day has pretty much nothing to do with the love we should have for our environment.
Old Valentine’s Day Classics
If you want to stick to the classics, go for it! We have nothing against flowers or chocolates, just be mindful of the choices you make. For example, instead of having flowers delivered, or showing up with a perfectly composed bouquet (wrapped up in plastic) straight from a supermarket or a shop, if you have access to a garden, or your local farmer’s market, how about putting together your own bouquet? Those flowers will be locally grown, in season, and hand picked by you, nothing sweeter than that! Wrap them up in brown paper, or have them already in a beautiful reusable vase (what do you know, double gift!). If the person in question loves gardening and is a green thumb than you could skip the flowers all together and go for a flower pot or, if you’re ready for the next step, how about showing up with a tree! You could plant it in your favorite spot, one that has meaning to you both, and where you can see it grow in years to come! The Valentine’s Day gift that keeps giving!
More of a chocaholic? Great! We have a sweet tooth too, but here are some questions to get your loved one’s chocolate fix just right: Read the label! Where have those chocolates been made? Could you find something local? If not choose fair-trade chocolate as it is often shade-grown, providing wildlife habitat and protecting rain forests. Choose minimal packaging. What are they wrapped in? Do they come in a plastic box or a cardboard box? Are they individually wrapped? Can the box be reused or repurposed? Hey, if your loved one loves chocolate that much how about buying him or her a chocolate making class or course? A fun experience to learn something new and which can then be recreated at home package-free!
Ok, so you’ve showed up with flowers and chocolate, what’s next? Out to dinner? Make sure you both have reusable essentials (cutlery and straws), but if you’re going to a fancy restaurant they’ll probably already have those! One place where even fancy restaurants go wrong though, is food waste! So, don’t waste a single bite of that delicious meal and make sure you show up prepared by reading our guide on cutting down on waste when dining out! In alternative, you could always choose a scenic spot and have a romantic, minimal-waste picnic, or stay home and cook together!
Last but not least, cards! You would think that in the era we live in where almost everything is done through email or through text, cards would be a thing of the past, but in truth more than 180 million paper cards are still exchanged on February 14th. Don’t buy anything new to write on and express your feelings, find pieces of paper around the house or around the office and make a custom card!
Looking for something original or long-lasting?
It’s all about reusables and long-lasting gifts or experiences. Depending on hobbies and interests you could have a reusable cup or water bottle engraved. Something customized and personal is a great way to say ‘I love you’, and if whatever is personalized is something that the person can use on a daily or weekly basis than that is better still! Another thing that can be easily customizable are multipurpose cotton bags! Whether they are then used as grocery bags, sachet bags, to store jewelry or to contain anything else you can think of, they are something that will last for years and years to come, and that won’t have a severe impact on the planet once they’ve run their natural course!
Other unique and sustainable Valentine’s Day gifts are activities! From booking an experience (a class or a local tour), to an e-ticket to a show, to an online subscription, or even a ‘voucher book’ (find out more about Eco-Friendly gift ideas in this article).
If you’ve already bought a gift that you know your loved one will love and cherish and appreciate, then make sure you wrap it in something sustainable, as most wrapping paper is not recyclable. Alternatives could be cloth, burlap, or old newspapers, which can then be decorated or wrapped up using ribbons, strings or twine. Whatever you go for though, don’t ruin it with sticky tape or glue, otherwise it would have all been for nothing, as sticky tape and glue would make any paper unrecyclable.
So, do you already have a Valentine’s Day gift prepared? Can we know what it is?