Hidden Costs of Valentine’s Day Flowers

Hidden Costs of Valentine’s Day Flowers

As Valentine’s Day starts to roll around, you’ll start to notice more and more flowers on the shelves in your local stores. Have you wondered where these beautiful flowers came from in the middle of winter?

In North America, there is nothing more iconic than a bouquet of flowers for your special person on Valentine’s Day. According to Rabobank, about $2.1 billion are spent on flowers around Valentine’s Day each year, and in 2020, Canada imported $137.8 million in cut flowers and buds for ornamental purposes. With the cut floral industry being so large, production has shifted towards countries where climate conditions can provide year-round production with low labour costs. Columbia, Kenya, Ecuador and Ethiopia are the world’s greatest producers of flowers. However, we are not seeing the true environmental and social costs of these bouquets of flowers such as greenhouse gas emissions, extensive use of resources, and social impact on workers. Below, we have provided some of the major concerns in the floral industry and how we can make better choices while celebrating this holiday.

  1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Hundreds of cargo planes full of flowers fly from across the world a month before Valentine’s Day with about 30 planes departing every day leading up to the romantic day. The International Council on Clean Transportation estimated that flower delivery flights within that month burn approximately 144 million liters of fuel, emitting 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to 77,500 gasoline powered vehicles driven for one year. The key to keeping bouquets alive during transport is by controlling temperature, humidity and oxygen to CO2 ratio; therefore, refrigeration causes a 25% increase in fuel in comparison to non-refrigerated transport.

  1. Water and Land Utilization

With Kenya being one of the largest exporters of flowers, cut flowers in this country are estimated to account for 45% of the country’s virtual water exports. Considering 15% of the population lacks access to clean water sources in Kenya, this percentage of water spent on cut flowers is disproportionately high. Clearly, this industry is a large part of Kenya’s populations’ livelihood, providing $141 million US a year into their economy; however, this industry also uses 2,900 hectares of agricultural land. With high food insecurity and water scarcity rates in Kenya, it’s important to recognize that the clean water and large hectares of land could be better used to address water and food needs in the country.

  1. Impact of Chemicals

Most of the cut flowers sold in North America are either grown in resource intensive greenhouses or imported from various countries in South America. Because flowers are non-edible crops, regulations are only loosely applied, and exemptions are made for pesticide residues. It is estimated that 1/5 of the agrochemicals used in the floriculture industry are banned in Canada, yet 350 million flowers are imported each year. Runoff from floriculture farms and greenhouses have also found to contaminate downstream water sources.

  1. Social Impact

Due to the extensive use of chemicals, many workers suffer from health problems such as skin conditions, respiratory problems, impaired vision, and birth defects. Research has shown that even children living near floricultural greenhouses, where pesticides are applied, can have altered brain activity. With major production of in developing countries, there are many social and ethical issues associated with the labour in the floriculture industry. The workers on the farm are likely working long hours in extreme heat, underpaid, and subject to force

d labour.

What you can do this Valentine’s Day

If you’re looking for a gift for your special person this Valentine’s Day, you can source out flowers that are grown locally or seasonal, specifically from those who use sustainable growing practices. Rather than buying flowers from your grocery store, consider a visit to your local farmers markets or a sustainable florist. You can also keep an eye out for eco-labels such as Veriflora, FairTrade, Rain Forest Alliance, and Bloomcheck. These certifications ensure that the product has been responsibly sourced and produced.

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day sustainably this year?