Celebrate Valentine’s Day with gifts that also show your love for the environment

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This Valentine’s Day, material expressions of love can have the desired impact without harming the environment. The GreenUP store features locally made soaps and bath bombs by Simply Natural Canada, cards by Jackson Creek Press, and folk art coffee lover hearts by Brianna Gosselin. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Store)

Did you know that the idea of ​​Valentine’s Day as a celebration of romantic love originated in a poem written in 1382?

Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Bird Parliament” describes a gathering of birds on Valentine’s Day. Three male birds make impassioned speeches – including appeals for cosmic and political order and insults – in order to win the affections of a female bird. None succeed.

That doesn’t look like a promising start to us. We think everyone would be better off if we all celebrated Valentine’s Day without focusing on romantic love.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up fun facts, unfortunate realities, and alternatives that would make Valentine’s Day more enduring and loving.

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love and money

Valentine’s Day is big business. According to the 2016 Census, about 57% of Canadians over the age of 15 identified themselves as living as part of a couple in a private household.

Not everyone in a romantic relationship is included in this figure, but clearly the majority of our population is likely to be in on Valentine’s Day. Canadians spend approximately $37 million on Valentine’s Day each year. The most common Valentine’s Day gifts are cards, chocolates and flowers.

Let’s take a look at how each of these items gained popularity and what alternatives could reduce negative environmental and social impacts.

Cards

In addition to their negative environmental impacts, Valentine's Day cards also have a history of misogyny.  During the Victorian era, hateful and anonymous Valentine's Day cards became popular in several countries, sometimes rivaling the profitability and popularity of cards conveying messages of love.  Called a few times
In addition to their negative environmental impacts, Valentine’s Day cards also have a history of misogyny. During the Victorian era, hateful and anonymous Valentine’s Day cards became popular in several countries, sometimes rivaling the profitability and popularity of cards conveying messages of love. Sometimes called “vinegar valentines”, these cards were often sent by men whose advances were unrequited with the intention of causing emotional damage to women. The Chicago Post Office once declared some 25,000 cards so vulgar they were unfit for transport by the US Postal Service. (Public domain images)

Valentine’s Day cards first became popular in 19th century England. In 1841, just a year after the invention of the postage stamp, the number of Valentine’s Day cards exploded from around 60,000 to some 400,000.

Valentine’s Day cards are second only to Christmas cards in popularity and, like the first mass-produced Christmas cards, these Valentine’s Day cards were assembled in factories that employed women or girls. .

Studies on the environmental impact of the greeting card industry in Canada are not readily available, but a recent study by the University of Exeter in the UK showed that sending a card produces about 140 grams of carbon dioxide. With nearly two billion cards sold every year in the UK, that carbon footprint is roughly equivalent to making 10,000 cars a year.

The good news is that most cards and envelopes are recyclable if made exclusively from paper, and some cards are made entirely from post-consumer recycled paper. One thing to keep in mind is that any embellishments such as shiny or shiny materials, music players, glitter, metallic ink, or metallic charms must be removed before the card can go in the recycling bin. . Unfortunately, glitter and music players contribute to plastic pollution around the world.

Low-impact alternatives to mass-produced boards include buying boards from local manufacturers, making your own boards from recyclable or biodegradable materials, or testing electronic boards.

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Chocolate

A cocoa tree with fruit pods in different stages of maturity.  Originally used by Mesoamerican peoples thousands of years ago to create a ceremonial drink, cocoa has long been considered powerful with symbolic associations at its core.  (Public domain photo)
A cocoa tree with fruit pods in different stages of maturity. Originally used by Mesoamerican peoples thousands of years ago to create a ceremonial drink, cocoa has long been considered powerful with symbolic associations at its core. (Public domain photo)

Chocolate is another popular Valentine’s Day gift. Chocolate is created by processing the beans found in the large fruit pods that grow on cocoa trees. The cocoa tree is native to the tropical regions of South and Central America. However, around two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is now produced in West Africa, often using child labour.

Conscious consumption is important if you plan to give chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Look for fair trade chocolate products that respect basic human rights and care for cocoa farmers and workers. Find out more and consult the list of brands and companies registered on fairtrade.ca/cocoa.

Also consider asking our talented local chocolatiers here in Peterborough if their chocolate and sugar are Fair Trade sourced. Buying local can reduce the environmental impacts of shipping, especially if you find a chocolatier that uses recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

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flowers

A worker cuts roses for shipment to the United States and Europe at a flower farm in Madrid, Colombia in August 2020. Ecuador and Colombia are world leaders in the cut flower industry.  (Picture: Fernando Vergara/AP)
A worker cuts roses for shipment to the United States and Europe at a flower farm in Madrid, Colombia in August 2020. Ecuador and Colombia are world leaders in the cut flower industry. (Picture: Fernando Vergara/AP)

Cut flowers are an iconic Valentine’s Day gift. A dozen long-stemmed red roses will cost you 30% more for Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year. Increased demand and limited supply are driving up prices for Valentine’s Day.

Cut flowers have a particularly negative impact on vulnerable groups and the environment. In 2017, Statistics Canada reported that 12.4 million cut roses and rosebuds were imported into Canada for a total value of $76.1 million. Most of these flowers are produced in Colombia and Ecuador, and many contribute to unethical working conditions and unsustainable water use.

Data from a 2009 study by the International Labor Rights Forum shows that approximately 60% of flower farm workers in Colombia and Ecuador are women. Of these workers, 55% have been victims of sexual harassment, with the aggressors rarely being punished.

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Heavy pesticide use causes about two-thirds of these horticulturists to suffer from health problems, ranging from impaired vision to birth defects and neurological conditions. In some cases, it was reported that female workers had to take pregnancy tests and those found to be pregnant were either fired or not hired.

You can use fairtrade.ca/flowers as a resource for finding flower sources that promote fairer working conditions.

You can also consider potted plants that have been grown sustainably in Canada, or even better, relatively close to Peterborough. Planning ahead and harvesting a dried bouquet of native flowers from your garden in early fall can make for a low-impact, carefully arranged gift that lasts longer than cut roses.

Jewelry is another popular Valentine's Day gift that can have significant environmental impacts, including land erosion, the leakage of harmful chemicals into local watersheds, and the alteration of entire ecosystems.  A unique, low-impact alternative comes from local maker Keetarella, who make beautiful earrings from beer cans.  (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Store)
Jewelry is another popular Valentine’s Day gift that can have significant environmental impacts, including land erosion, the leakage of harmful chemicals into local watersheds, and the alteration of entire ecosystems. A unique, low-impact alternative comes from local maker Keetarella, who make beautiful earrings from beer cans. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Store)

The pressure to give gifts on Valentine’s Day can have detrimental effects on the environment and on social conditions around the world. As you consider your loved ones and your expressions of love for them, also consider where various products come from, how they were produced, and how workers are treated.

At GreenUP, we also encourage you to support locally made products. Better yet, consider expressing your love through your own creativity: maybe write a poem or a letter, make a handmade card, or bake treats.

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