Whether you're lamenting a flower vase left empty this Valentine's Day, or you're reflecting on the fleeting nature of love as your bouquet browns at the edges, an increasingly unignorable fact is clouding the eco-consciousness of lovers: the environmental impact of roses. According to numerous reports, the commercial flower business in the US and abroad continues to be a harsh one for the atmosphere, soil, water and human health.
It's been known for years the beautiful red roses we see packed up in neat bunches have to come a long, water-wasting, oil-and-toxin-soaked journey to arrive at our delis, florists and groceries. According to the Guardian, about 40 tons of CO2 are spewed into the atmosphere for every 12,000 roses that make it to market. Considering about 55 million roses are traded globally on Valentine's Day alone, that's roughly 180,000 tons of CO2 for just one day! It's time to ask ourselves: is it really romantic to give your sweetheart a bouquet of greenhouse gas?
Most roses in the United States are sourced from Colombia, where toxic pesticide use persists despite government regulations. The chemicals used to grow uniform, richly-colored flowers are not only terrible for the environment, they are deadly for the workers who have to prepare the flowers for shipment. Once the roses are packed, they are flown to Miami (oil!) trucked to locations throughout the U.S. (more oil!) and usually wrapped in plastic or waxed paper (even more!) before they end up in a vase where they can be enjoyed for three to six days. Is the footprint really worth it?
The news is not all bad, though. U.S. News & World Report quotes Alex Morgan, manager of sustainable agriculture at the Rainforest Alliance, an Overbrook grantee. Morgan says conditions are improving somewhat, but consumers must be vigilant in ensuring their flowers come from growers that have been independently vetted and certified. While growers are still able to evade regulations, Morgan says getting the information to the public is a great way to instigate change. "If people find out their flowers are coming from a bad source it can be harmful to business," he says.
Roses sold in Europe, most of which are grown in Kenya's Naivasha region, have similar environmental impacts as those grown in South America. Dr. David Harper, a conservation biologist quoted in the Guardian, describes the lack of regulation in Kenya's flower trade and the ways in which growers can sell despite having no fair-trade certification. Click here for the full story.
As Mother's Day approaches (another big flower holiday!) check out some eco-options that will say "I love you" to your Earth mother:
A long list of eco-flower businesses here
The Guardian has some options here
Organic Bouquet in California
California Organic Flowers