Whether you enjoy it or not, there’s no getting around it: Valentine’s Day is a major holiday for consumerism. In 2018, Americans spent about $19.6 BILLION the week of Valentine’s Day (source) on consumables and disposables like flowers, chocolate, wine, Hallmark cards, etc. But who says we need to spend so much money on such things to enjoy time together or to show our love? If you’ve got kids, a significant other, or just want to show yourself some self-care, I’ve got ideas for your “Zero Waste Valentine’s Day!” They won’t break the bank and they will mean so much more than a plastic heart-shaped box full of (possibly gross) mystery chocolates.
Disclosure: some of the links below (noted with an asterisk*) are affiliate links. This means, at no additional cost to you, I will make a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. For more info regarding how I decide when to use affiliate links, see full disclosure here.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
The cut-flower industry is an estimated $33 billion global industry and thrives during these types of holidays. Have you ever wondered where your bouquet came from in the middle of this winter season? Or why it costs so much? Countries like Kenya, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Colombia are now the world’s greatest producers of flowers due to their “better climatic conditions and lower labor costs” (source).
But let’s think about what this means.
These flowers are grown in other countries, with very minimal wages given to those working in the fields. They’re transported around the world so that they can ultimately end up in the trash. (After we paid a bunch of money because social pressures weighed on us to do so.)
Because flowers are not edible crops, they are “exempt from regulations on pesticide residues” (source above). Methyl Bromide is a toxic chemical 5 times more destructive to the ozone layer than Carbon Dioxide and highly hazardous to human health. Yet it has been used for over 40 years because it’s also the most effective pesticide in killing weeds, rodents, insects, soil-borne diseases, and so on.
Mmmm, doesn’t that make you want to stop and smell your roses? Yum. (Oh and consider how those pesticides affect the people working with them and pollute the local water runoff…)
Once these flowers are grown, they’re transported all over the world. From farms to airplanes to shops and to your home – literally tons of emissions are part of this process. Plus, they need to be refrigerated the whole time! “On average, refrigerated trucks use about 25% more fuel than those that are not refrigerated. And you have to keep in mind that most trucks in the US still run on diesel which produces more air pollutants than gasoline.” (source above)
So, between the low labor costs, pesticide pollution, and emissions of CO2, an expensive bouquet of cut roses doesn’t really say “I love you” as best as we claim. For your Zero Waste Valentine’s Day, consider these alternatives:
Give a Plant!
While plants may come from different parts of the world, too, they have a much longer lifespan – assuming they’re cared for appropriately. You could ideally give a plant grown in or meant for your climate and region. You could even go a step beyond this and give something that will keep on giving – like an herb or one of these easy indoor veggies!
Give a Tree!
You could also fight deforestation and climate change, provide jobs for local communities, and create more animal habitats through Click-A-Tree!* This program allows you to buy a tree online and they will plant it for you in the community you’ve chosen to support. Now you’re spreading real love this Valentine’s Day!
If you’ve got your heart set on a floral display, do some research and see if you can find some locally sourced flowers. You may be able to purchase some that are grown organically and much closer to your home!
Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates…
…But have you considered the life impacted by that heart-shaped box of chocolates?
Right up there with flowers, the chocolate industry is booming this time of year. On average, Americans alone consume 58 million pounds of chocolate the week of Valentine’s Day! (source)
If you’re like me, you’re probably internally yelling “STAAHP!” because you absolutely love chocolate and don’t want me to ruin this for you. Chocolate is a big indulgence of mine – I get it. Don’t worry, you don’t need to give it all up, but consider the stats below and the many ethical options you have.
Chocolate has been described in history as the food of the gods, and was once a luxury item. Ever wonder why we can buy so much for cheap now? Most of the brands (like Hershey, Lindt, Godiva, Mars and Nestle) producing this cheap chocolate are able to do so with child labor. “Most cocoa farming families live below the World Bank’s poverty line of $2 a day.” (source)
The ethics of chocolate production don’t stop there, either.
- To keep up with the global demand for this sweet treat, these companies are a major contributor to deforestation for cocoa beans, sugar, and palm oil. Deforestation impacts both wildlife habitats and human communities.
- 1,000 liters of water are used to produce one cheap chocolate bar.
- The environmental impact of dairy farming for milk is unsustainable.
- The manufacturing / disposal of individual wrappers creates so much unnecessary waste and pollution.
When you and/or your loved ones take a bite into a delicious piece of chocolate, I’m sure you don’t want to be thinking about the blood, sweat and tears of a young child or about an orangutan without a home… So, for your ethical, sustainable, Zero Waste Valentine’s Day, consider the following:
Here is a great list of ethical chocolate companies to support and what labels are helpful to look for. I always check for my chocolate to be Fair Trade Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, and Vegan. Dark chocolate with these certifications also eliminates the environmental impact of dairy farming and uses less sugar.
Buy in Bulk!
If you have access to ethically made chocolate in bulk, then the more the merrier! Reducing the amount of waste from individual wrapping is like bonus sustainability points! And maybe you or your S.O. doesn’t even like chocolate — then buying some other sweet treat to enjoy in bulk gives you plenty of options.
What About Allllllll The Other Stuff?
For the sake of your time, I’m not going to dive into the statistics on how much money is spent and how much unnecessary waste is created through other popular Valentine’s Day gifts. You know — wine, giant teddy bears, cards, jewelry, beauty products, and so on… Let your imagination go wild. Lots of excessive consumption. Lots of it ends up in the landfill.
But don’t get me wrong, I totally know how important it is to show your loved ones how much you care, to take time to care for yourself, and I’m not saying don’t do anything. On the contrary, I’ve got a bunch of zero waste Valentine’s Day ideas you could choose from that show your love and don’t hurt the environment or involve child labor! Check em out:
Seed Cards and Love Notes
Instead of paying for overly-priced greeting cards that ultimately end up in the trash, why not opt for something like a seed card? These seed cards* are hand-made with 50% recycled content, support a Nepalese community, and can be planted by their recipient – a gift that keeps on giving!
If you just want to write some simple love notes, consider using materials you already own – recycled paper, sending them digitally, or creating cute little notes out of scraps from leftover paper/cardboard/packaging – really anything you have around the house. Have fun and be creative!
DIY: Self-Care and/or S.O. Pampering
Rather than buying individually packaged beauty products that also most likely have a lot of harsh chemicals involved, opt to make your own! This site has some great tips for making your own bath salts for soaking, and you may have some of these ingredients already with a jar or any container lying around to put them in! Pinterest never fails me when I’m looking for a simple DIY beauty hack or zero waste self-care. Bath salts, sugar scrubs, lip balm, lotion – so many options!
Bea Johnson (basically the guru of all things zero waste) has an awesome site that allows you to search for bulk stores near you. I LOVE this feature!! If you’re wondering where you might be able to find things like herbs, essential oils, salts, food and more in bulk – give it a quick search.
Experiences and Memories
Want to give something that will truly last a lifetime? I cannot think of a more zero waste Valentine’s Day gift than experiencing something with your loved ones. The memories will last forever and the value is priceless. Here are some of my favorites to get you started:
- Zero waste picnic in the park (or indoors!) – don’t forget to pack glasses, utensils, cloth napkins and whatever else you’ll need.
- Cuddle up and watch a movie (bonus points for bringing your own snack if you go to the theatre!)
- Make dinner together or go out (remember to bring your own container in case of leftovers)
- Go see a concert, a comedy act, a play, a musical… Live entertainment is so much fun!
- Have a game night with your S.O. or loved ones!
- Pour some wine (or don’t) and enjoy asking each other these 36 questions that are apparently supposed to make you fall deeper in love… Kevin and I totally did this and had lots of fun getting to know each other better! (remember to recycle the glass bottle!)
Speaking of Experiences… How About Safe Sex??
If you’re planning to have sex on Valentine’s Day (or whenever), I’ve got some tips for safety and sustainability! …Well, sustainable for the environment. 😉
Wondering about zero waste lube? Got you covered. Coconut oil is a great all-natural option, and even better if you’re able to refill it in bulk. This article outlines pros and cons in detail, but basically, you want to use unrefined (virgin) coconut oil and you only need a small amount. If you’re prone to yeast infections, you may not want to use it, and you don’t want to use it with latex condoms because it can break down the latex.
So then, condoms… How are those zero waste? I would say if that’s your form of birth control, then using them is obviously super important and you should not ditch them. I have a couple brands I would recommend based on their ethics and their sustainable efforts:
- Glyde condoms* are a top recommended brand and are B Corporation certified. They are certified vegan, ethical, fair-trade and their products are free from parabens, glycerin, and other harmful chemicals. They’re vegan because they don’t use casein (a dairy-derived ingredient) which is found in many other brands. And since these condoms are made with sustainably grown, non-GMO natural rubber instead of latex, coconut oil lube is totally fine!
- Sustain Natural Latex condoms* are also vegan, fair-trade, non-GMO with natural and sustainably-sourced latex rubber. It is lubricated inside and out, so no need to worry about not being able to use coconut oil, and it’s free of any dyes or fragrances.
DISCLAIMER: You probably know that condoms are only 85% effective, which means about 15 out of 100 people get pregnant if they’re using condoms as their only form of birth control. I recommend the products above but cannot guarantee 100% effectiveness.
Already Have Kids and Want a Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Together?
You can totally show your kids how special they are with experiences, ethically made treats, love notes, DIY crafts, and more like we’ve already talked about.
One fun option I would add to the list is zero waste valentines. Instead of buying boxed sets to cut up, decorate, give out and then toss at the end, try using eco-friendly materials. You could do the seed cards or paper scrap ideas above, but my personal favorite is using fruit! You can choose fruit that already has a natural “wrapping” – like bananas and oranges – and then write cute notes on the outer peel with a sharpie! Good for a smile, their belly, and the compost.
Final Gift Ideas
Let’s say you really want to buy yourself and/or your S.O. something special. You want to give a tangible item they can hold and keep. I would always recommend shopping second-hand first as there are so many things out there in perfectly good condition. Craigslist and thrift stores have been dear friends of mine.
If you’re looking for something new and you also want to support a great cause with your purchase, I would buy from Tree Tribe* – they’re on a mission to create quality products using eco-friendly materials and plant millions of trees in the process! They plant one tree for every sale. You can find a variety of items from clothing to “leaf leather” to reusable bottles and more!
Boom. Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Accomplished.
In the midst of this society driven by mass consumerism, you have the power to vote for your values. Where you decide to spend your money makes a huge impact — you, along with each individual, show corporations what you want and what you’re willing to support.
This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to reduce the amount of unnecessary waste in your life and to love deeper. Love yourself and those dear to you, but also love the billions of other living beings sharing this earth with us.
How will you deepen your love this Valentine’s Day? Got any ideas I didn’t mention? Share with us in the comments below!