THERE was a day when when a bunch of flowers, preferably roses, was a must on Valentine’s Day. But that was when CO₂ levels in the atmosphere were within acceptable limits. Those days are gone, and won’t be coming back for centuries, if ever.
To be honest, even back in the day, I always thought there was something kind of wasteful and extravagant about cut flowers. Here today, wilted tomorrow, and then, sorrowfully, into the bin and off to the landfill in the back of a gas-guzzling garbage truck.
Potted plants made a lot more sense. At least potted plants lasted a couple of weeks or so, and in many cases could be replanted.
But this blog is not about monetary waste, it’s about carbon footprint and costs to the planet, a planet that I love. And this year, I have pledged never again to buy a cut flower, not on Valentine’s Day, not for a wedding, not for a funeral or birthday or any other special occasion where unthinking marketeers tell me to “Say it with Flowers”.
How does cutting back on cut flowers affect my carbon footprint?
First of all, expressing our feelings through the giving of commercially-grown cut flowers is a relatively new habit. It was started in the UK–the cradle of industrialization– in the late 19th Century. Prior to that time people would pick wild flowers from the fields.
Since the cut-flower industry (floriculture) started it has grown into a $33 billion global industry with an extremely negative effect on the air, soil and water supply.
According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), chemical pollution is one of the main concerns. Floriculture has loose regulatory status because flowers are not edible crops and are exempt from regulations on pesticide residues, even though they carry significantly more pesticides than is permitted on food crops (1).
It is estimated that one-fifth of the chemicals used in the floriculture industry in developing countries like Kenya, Thailand and Ethiopia, are so toxic that they are totally banned in the US and Europe.
Some of these chemicals–methyl bromide for example– are not only polluting drinking water, the air we breathe and the land we tread, they are also contributing to the enlargement of the ozone hole that leads to more ultra-violet radiation and skin cancer (3).
Floriculture also uses huge amounts of water, much of it in water-distressed countries where people are struggling to find enough to drink. Floriculture uses land that would be better used for food production. Furthermore, flying fresh flowers around the world generates CO₂ from aircraft emissions and leads to further emissions in land transport and delivery.
So, as another Valentine’s Day brings a surge in demand for cut-flowers, it is not inappropriate for me to say I want to play no further part in this. From now on, I will say it with emails, not with flowers.
The planet comes first, even on February 14th! #valentinesday
(1) African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 9(44), pp. 7401-7408, 1 November, 2010 Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/AJB DOI: 10.5897/AJB10.740
ISSN 1684–5315 ©2010 Academic Journals. Retrieved from: http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380546520_Kargbo%20et%20al.pdf
(2) Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The Destructive Public Health, Human Rights, and Environmental Consequences of Symbols of Love. Retrieved from: http://phsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/Symbols-of-Love-HRQ-pdf.pdf
(3) Methyl bromide fact sheet. Retrieved from http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/MBgen.pdf