Flowers, Chocolate and Carbon Emissions

The environmental cost of Valentine’s Day

By Cierra Coppock

Picking out roses and chocolates for your significant other might seem like an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but have you ever considered the environmental implications of this holiday? 

Unfortunately, purchasing gifts for that special someone can increase a consumer’s daily carbon emissions by about 30%, Charles Barnhart, Western environmental sciences assistant professor said.

Flowers and chocolates may seem harmless, but the real damage is done during the shipping of these products. Roses are grown in tropical climates during the winter months, which means they have to travel thousands of miles before they’re put on the shelves of your local grocery store, Barnhart said.

According to an article in The Washington Post, a majority of the roses Americans give to one another on Valentine’s Day come from Colombia, and the 2,600 miles they travel come with a price. 

“It’s peak season for a massive Colombian industry that shipped more than 4 billion flowers to the United States last year — or about a dozen for every U.S. resident,” Damian Palletta said in  the article. 

Barnhart came to the conclusion that every rose shipped to the U.S. produces 10 grams of carbon emissions. A study done by Terrapass, a company that provides carbon offsets and greenhouse reduction products, found that 20 million pounds of carbon dioxide are produced by transporting flowers from South America for Valentine’s Day. 

“To put this number into context, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a forest larger than the area of Houston (669 square miles) would be needed to sequester that amount of carbon,” the International Council on Clean Transportation stated in a report

Roses are often additionally wrapped in single-use plastic. 

“Single-use plastic is harmful all year round, but I don’t think people realize how much plastic they’re using during these kinds of commercialized holidays,” third-year plastics and composites engineering major Claire Drury, said. “We’ve been conditioned to perpetuate this consumeristic cycle without considering its environmental ramifications.”  

Drury said after we use these single-use plastics, they don’t just disappear. Most cannot be recycled, so they end up in the landfill where they break down into small pieces called microplastics. These microplastics can be incredibly harmful for not only people, but animals as well. 

“Every piece of single-use plastic that has ever been produced still exists somewhere on our planet, whether it’s in a landfill or in the ocean,” Drury said. 

Chocolates are also often associated with Valentine’s Day. 200 grams of chocolate, an average sized chocolate bar, results in 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide, Barhart said. Although this value is mainly coming from shipping, a large portion of the damage is the result of clearing rainforests for chocolate farming.

“Valentine’s Day is yet another capitalist, consumer holiday designed to make people feel obligated to purchase goods that require transportation and single-use plastic packaging in an effort to validate their love,” Ian Browning, fourth-year environmental science and chemistry major, said. “Valentine’s Day can be a reminder to spend time with people you care about. That means more than vapid, impersonal gifts.”

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