It’s February and everywhere you turn is pink and red. Supermarket chocolate aisles and florists are overflowing, jewellery store windows plastered with photos of couples – one wearing something very shiny – and every restaurant changes from a-la-carte to a set menu.
Also red is the credit card debt some go into trying to give their special someone a perfect day.
But Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about mass consumption of flowers, confectionary, and diamonds. The history is murky, but most sources agree it was first celebrated in the 14th Century. As for its name, there are three Saint Valentines who inspired Hallmark to start making cards. One was a priest who was martyred, one sent the woman he loved a letter from gaol signed ‘from your Valentine’, and the final defied the orders of his Emperor by performing weddings in secret – hence why the day is associated with love.
Love of people. Not love of things. Yet, Aussies are expected to spend $415 million on Valentine’s Day this year.
I hear you – Australian businesses need us to spend right now. But so much of what we buy for this holiday is mass produced, unsustainably packaged, and has a huge environmental impact that will prove costly to all of us down the track.
So, we’ve put together a list of the most common Valentine’s Day gifts and alternatives that will lessen the hit to your wallets, the environment, and your values.
Roses shouldn’t stem from child labour
In the global rose hubs of Colombia and Ecuador adults and children face a high risk of exploitation often forced to work excessive hours in gruelling conditions for minimal pay. Buying local doesn’t guarantee the flowers you buy will be free of exploitation, but Australia’s labour regulations make poor conditions far less likely.
Then there’s transport. Growing, harvesting, refrigerating, and flying multiple tonnes of roses around the world has a massive carbon footprint, which is significantly reduced when you buy from your local market or grower.
And finally, there’s the waste. Flowers don’t last forever, and they typically come wrapped in plastic, paper and ribbons. Minimise the packaging wherever possible to also minimise your eco-impact.
Ethically sourced chocolate tastes the sweetest
The heart-shaped box is a staple of this day, but even the sweetest chocolates turn bitter when you find out that approximately 1.5 million children work on the chocolate farms in West African countries including Ghana and Cote d-Ivoire which grow the largest amount of cocoa in the world.
Chocolate made without child labour or exploitation can seem difficult to come by, but it is possible. Looking for certifications such as Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance is a good start, and even five minutes of online research will tell you a lot about where a brand is at in their ethical sourcing journey.
Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend
When you’re buying jewellery for another person, the number one rule is to make sure you know what they like – but there are a few other complexities in the process. The extraction of metals has a significant impact on the earth and air quality, and obscure jewellery supply chains often hide human rights abuses including forced and child labour.
Instead of reaching for the biggest or brightest piece, check out a small jewellery-maker’s collection, look for makers using recycled materials or buy second-hand. Chances are what you’ll buy will be unique, and have a great story behind it.
‘Valentine’s Day’ branding is so last year
If you’re given a bracelet that says ‘21’ on your 21st birthday, you’ll use it for one year, then put it away when you turn 22. It’s a common problem. If you buy something marked for Valentine’s Day, at most it’ll be used for one day every year – at least until it’s replaced with another item in 12 months’ time when Valentine’s Day comes around again.
To avoid the issues of gift and packaging waste altogether, giving an experience like dinner, movie or concert tickets paired with one of Baptist World Aid’s Big Hearted Gift Card is a fun alternative that also gives back. And if you really want to get your loved one a mug, look for something tailored to their interests rather than for the day and watch it become their everyday coffee cup, rather than the one they only pull out once a year.
No matter what your plans are for February 14, remember that the best gift you can give is one that’s good for the environment, good for the people who made it and appreciated by your loved one. Let’s keep the Earth happy and Valentine’s Day rosy in 2022.