Valentine’s Day is meant to celebrate love, but what about love for the planet?
Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day presents many opportunities for less-than-sustainable practices, from glittery cards mucking up recycling to imported cut flowers and chocolates racking up carbon emissions as they travel overseas.
“Anytime we’re talking about physical gifts, from chocolates and flowers to jewelry, they all come with an environmental footprint,” said said Cindy Isenhour, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Climate Change at the University of Maine.
Luckily, there are a few simple swaps you can make for products that are easier to recycle, create less waste or are more sustainably sourced. If you want to show your sweetheart you love the planet as much as you love them, here’s how to have a more sustainable Valentine’s Day this year.
Only get essentials
It can be tempting to indulge on Valentine’s Day, whether through giant teddy bears that will end up in an attic somewhere or boxes of chocolate that are so big you will never finish them.
Resist that urge for excess.
“There’s a lot of unnecessary waste on Valentine’s Day,” said Matt Grondin, communications manager at ecomaine. “There are a lot of balloons and flowers and stuffed animals that are seen as disposable [and] may not serve as a meaningful part of the gift.”
Think about the person you are buying presents for, and what they will actually like to receive this Valentine’s Day. A thoughtful gift will be more romantic and meaningful than one with meaningless extra thingamajigs, anyway.
“If water use, carbon emissions, plastics, or resource degradation are things that your partner cares about, receiving things that they don’t want or need can actually cause stress,” Isenhour said. “They say ‘it’s the thought that counts’ and in the case of Valentine’s Day, maybe just being sensitive to that is important too.”
Pick eco-friendly cards
A thoughtful card can be a lovely Valentine’s Day gesture. When it comes to sustainability, though, some cards are better than others.
“When we get into cards that have lots of parts, glitter or glued on pieces, those tend to be less recyclable,” Grondin said. “Ultimately, those little pieces of plastic are not good for the environment. We want to reduce those where we can.”
Grondin pointed out that being conscious of the waste stream may be even more romantic. He pointed at a 2018 survey conducted by The Recycling Partnership, a national recycling non-profit, that showed 62 percent of Americans consider it a turn-off if somebody doesn’t recycle.
For that extra shot of romance, make more recyclable — or even upcycled — choices when choosing your Valentine’s Day card this year.
“How about cards and envelopes made from 100 percent recycled paper,” said Daniel Dixon, director of the office of sustainability at the University of Maine. “Or better yet, draw your own card.”
Buy better bouquets
A bouquet is a classic romantic gesture, but purchasing Valentine’s Day flowers comes with environmental costs. The vast majority of cut flowers are shipped from abroad, which accrue significant carbon emissions as they are shipped to the United States.
It would be great if you could purchase a bouquet of Maine-grown flowers, but those are near-impossible to come by in the middle of February. Instead, Dixon said to consider buying a potted houseplant or succulent that will be able to thrive in Maine and you can enjoy all year long.
If a bouquet is a must have, at least ask for your bouquet without a plastic sleeve if you can.
“Some florists will offer a paper alternative, and that’s always great to ask for even if you’re not sure,” Grondin said. “It varies by store.”
Choose conscious chocolate
Chocolate is another classic Valentine’s Day gift you can make efforts to purchase more sustainably. The chocolate industry contributes to deforestation, and often use child labor in order to meet the global demane.
Dixon said to keep an eye out for Fair Trade-certified chocolate, which does not use child labor and has more environemntal sustainability practices. You can also try and get a box with more biodegradable elements.
“The paper box component of chocolate boxes is recyclable all day,” Grondin said. “The plastic inserts, the trays, the cellophane, things like that have to go into the trash. Where you can, look to minimize those.”
Thrift for gifts
Shopping at the thrift store for gifts isn’t just for Christmas — it can be great for Valentine’s Day, too. Thrift stores are also a great place to look for upcycled items that you might normally purchase new for Valentine’s Day, like decorations.
“Thrift shops are absolutely a great way to look at that as far as stuffed animals and decorations and stuff like that,” Grondin said.
Sustainable in-home dining
Because of the pandemic, you are probably cooking Valentine’s Day dinner at home this year. No matter what romantic meal you decide to cook, it will be more sustainable to source as many ingredients as you can that are local ly-grown by shopping at a farmers market or purchasing meat and produce directly from Maine farmers.
If you are choosing to have wine with your meal, Grondin also said to make sure you recycle your wine bottles or bring them to the redemption center instead of throwing them in the garbage.
Grondin also noted that while corks aren’t recyclable, most corks are compostable, too.
“Sometimes they get the little plasticy types to them, but if it’s real cork you can compost it,” Grondin said. “Corks lend themselves to a lot of great reuse [and] craft activities where metal ones don’t. The metal screw tops frankly are probably too small to be captured and recycled on their own.”
Balloons may be festive, but they are terrible for the environment.
“Balloons are, unfortunately, almost never recyclable,” Grondin said. “If they’re a must-have. keep them out of recycling.”
You can choose more sustainable decorations. Grondin suggested opting for upcycled paper decorations and post-consumer materials. Still, he recognizes it might not have the same effect as a balloon.
“There’s nothing else that floats in the air quite like a balloon, [but] there are options for more sustainable decorations made out of paper or things like that,” Grondin said.
Be considerate about packaging
Opt for gifts with lower packaging, or find ways to recycle or reuse packaging. Jewelry boxes are a prime example.
“Those are great candidates for reuse,” Grondin said. ”They’re not recyclable, but you can use them for storing the jewelry at your own house. A store might take that back for reuse which would be a great option. Thrift shops may be able to take those and resell them for reuse by somebody else as well.”
Also, figure out what you can throw out and what you can recycle or compost from your Valentine’s Day festivities.
“Knowing which bin it can go it whether it’s recycling trash or compost just taking the split second to use resources like our Recyclopedia to know where to throw things out can save ecomaine and its member communities money and time, but also can lead to a more sustainable Valentine’s Day as well,” Grondin said.
Plan a low-waste date
If you are worried about waste, focus on the Valentine’s Day experience. In addition to choosing a date that is COVID-safe, the way you spend your time can also be more sustainable.
“Great gifts don’t have to be extracted, manufactured, packaged and shipped halfway around the world for you to express your love,” Isenhour said. “Things like making our loved one’s favorite meal, queuing up their favorite movie or planning an outdoor adventure can express a whole lot more thought and emotion than a bouquet of flowers.”