It being Valentine week, I thought I’d look into the human and environmental cost of the popular romantic holiday! Spoiler alert: this is kind of a “Mike Ruins Everything” post.
Depending on whom you ask, Americans spend between $18-20b on V-Day flowers, chocolates, plushies and foil or “mylar” balloons to prove their affection. Obviously all of these have environmental and human costs.
We’ll start with balloons and plushies. Latex balloons can take up to four years to biodegrade (don’t get me started on mylars, which are “metalicized polyester” and not classified as biodegradable) but it is their release into the environment that wreaks havoc on wildlife (if you need a good cry, check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s blog post on the subject, but be warned, there are pictures. )
Those cute little plushies are problematic, too, at every stage of their production. Most are made of materials derived from petrochemicals, some containing heavy metals like lead and cadmium. The manufacturing process “can result in harmful wastewater and other types of pollution”, and the toy industry has long been known to employ child labor.
Americans consume 58 million lbs of chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Most of the cocoa comes from West Africa, where, because 1 cocoa tree produces only about half a pound of chocolate a year, and global demand is so high, tropical forests are often clearcut to make way for this cash crop. Child labor is another ongoing reality of chocolate production, with an estimated 2+ million West African children involved in harvesting cocoa.
And those Valentine’s Day roses? Around 2/3 of them come from Colombia, where labor laws (including, again, child labor laws) and environmental regulations are lax. One study found that floriculture workers (2:1 female to male) “were exposed to 127 different types of pesticides. The female workers as well as the female partners of male workers experienced an “increase in the prevalence of abortion, prematurity, and congenital malformations … for pregnancies occurring after the start of work in floriculture.” This is particularly horrifying, given the product and its intended purpose and message.
The good news is there are plenty of sustainable ways to celebrate Valentine’s day! Because, honestly, loving someone to the end of the earth doesn’t need to be a literal thing.