February 10, 2021
Written by Allie Willison, Customer Experience @Blueland
As Valentine’s Day might have brought roses to your home, you might be thinking what is the impact of roses? Some opt for the grand bouquet from a fancy florist, others snag a quick bundle of 5 blooms from the local grocery store. Flowers are easy, traditional, and roses have especially become a symbol of love.
But are they good for the environment? The short answer is no and here’s why.
Where Do Valentine’s Day Roses Come From?
In most parts of the U.S. roses aren’t in season in February, meaning most of the red blooms that fill florist’s windows in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day are imported. Columbia is one of the top providers, their flower farms shipped over 4 billion roses to the US in 2018. According to the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2018/02/10/feature/colombia-rose-trade-industry-valentines-day/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1923facd1d80), Valentine’s Day makes up close to a 5th of their grower’s annual revenue alone. Each year in the weeks before Valentine’s Day up to 30 cargo jets (https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/12/18220984/valentines-day-flowers-roses-environmental-effects) full of roses fly back and forth from Columbia to Miami with the same amount flying in from Eduacdor. Since transportation is one of the largest sectors of carbon emissions in the U.S.– around 28% (https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions)— this travel has consequences for the planet. Plus, since they have to be flown (not shipped) due to their delicate nature, this adds even more emissions since air freight leaves the largest (https://www.sourcinghub.io/air-freight-vs-sea-freight-carbon-footprint/#:~:text=If%20you%20are%20looking%20solely,kg%2Fmile%20than%20ocean%20shipping.&text=However%2C%20for%20overall%20emissions%2C%20ocean,has%20exceptionally%20high%20sulfur%20content.) freight carbon footprint.
Then there’s the business of getting these newly imported flowers to their destination. They have to be loaded onto delivery trucks and in order to keep the flowers alive, these trucks have to be refrigerated. These trucks require 25% (http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/coldscape-refrigerated-trucking/) more fuel to run on average.
There are roses grown in the U.S. too, mostly in California. But because weather can be so unpredictable and labor is cheaper in other countries, the majority of larger companies outsource. That said, there is evidence (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/environmental-price-of-flowers/) that the growing of roses in warmer climates is actually more sustainable than if they were attempted to be grown in the U.S. due to the amount of energy needed to run greenhouses. Sustainability is a complicated and ever evolving issue which makes absolutes hard to deal out. With all the factors that go into it, we’re still learning what the best options are.
How Much Waste Do Roses Produce?
Jennifer Grove (https://www.seattletimes.com/business/valentines-day-flowers-dont-have-to-be-so-bad-for-the-environment-after-all/), founder of New York City-based flower service Repeat Roses has said “When you realize what the supply chain looks like and the number of hands that touch these flowers, and then they’re only appreciated for a couple of hours, it’s kind of disgusting when you think about the amount of resources that go into it.”
Plus, after roses are oo’d and ahh’d over they’re often destined for a landfill. There are already a few different companies popping up that are trying to deal with floral waste. Services like Garbage Goddess (https://www.garbagegoddess.com/) and the late Repeat Roses (who unfortunately have since closed due to the pandemic), specialized in the recycling of flowers from major events like weddings and galas. They either repurpose or compost the flowers, and Repeat Roses estimated that they kept almost 98 tons (https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-01-30/valentine-wedding-flower-recycling) of floral waste from landfills over the course of their business. Though they worked on a larger scale than a simple Valentine’s bouquet, the sentiment of sustainability is the same.
How Can You Gift Flowers Sustainably?
The easiest way to be sustainable when gifting flowers is to shop locally and in season. This is heightened by the Slow Flower Movement (https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-slow-flower-movement-is-gaining-momentum), which focuses on local cultivation and sowing seeds without harming the environment as well as eliminating the need for oversea’s transport. So this may mean you can’t get roses in February, but flowers themselves can hold the same sentiment, plus you know your gift isn’t producing unneeded waste.
After gifting the bouquet make sure to recycle, compost, or repurpose the bouquet. There are many ways to create something beautiful, you can hang them to dry so they last as decor for years, press them, make popery, or even frame them to remember the holiday.
Though the iconic red rose of love isn’t great for the environment, there are tons of sustainable options out there as an eco-friendly choice. Knowing what we know, we can push for a shift in how Valentine’s Day is celebrated. Because at the end of the day, whether it’s a rose or not, if given with love it will still smell as sweet.
Check out other gift ideas for a low waste Valentine’s Day here.