Watch the chocolate, skip the gold jewelry: Your last-minute guide to an ethical Valentine's Day

Celebrate love without supporting climate change and child labor

Published February 13, 2014 8:58PM (EST)

   (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)
(Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

It's a holiday defined by romance, and also by approximately $17.3 billion in spending, according to the National Retail Federation. There are a lot of ways that kind of spending can go wrong.

Aside from the obvious waste issues (think of all the trees cut down to send your valentines!), a number of Feb. 14 traditions are linked to environmentally destructive, unhealthy and unethical practices, often on a global scale. Here's how to get through the day with your ethics intact, while helping to ensure a better future for the approximately 11,000 children who will be conceived before it's over:

The Chocolate

West African nations supply up to 70 percent of the world's cocoa market; in the interest of keeping it cheap, child labor and even slavery on cocoa plantations is widespread, as is deforestation.

The cheaper end of Valentine's Day candy may be made with conflict palm oil -- an ingredient grown on huge corporate plantations complicit in issues of child labor, rain forest destruction and orangutan extinction.  To avoid being implicated in all that, steer clear of Twix, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, peanut butter M&Ms and Baby Ruth bars. (It can also be found in some lipsticks and body lotions.)

Read the ingredients list carefully to avoid palm oil under all of its aliases, and look for fair-trade, organic and certified sustainable sweets.

The Flowers

There's no telling where your flowers are coming from -- 80 percent of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported, primarily from Colombia and Ecuador. Often, they're doused with pesticides, and labor issues on floral assembly lines are well-documented.

If you're shopping in person, ask your florist where their roses are sourced from, or go to one of the many websites out there that market organic, local options. Or, you can take the EPA's advice and express your love with a plantable shrub instead.  

The Jewelry

The environmental destruction associated with gold mining is massive, as documented by Earthworks' "No Dirty Gold" campaign. A single gold ring comes at the cost of 20 tons of mining waste, according to the nonprofit, while mining has been linked to human rights abuses, toxic chemical pollution in the water, mercury pollution in the atmosphere and long-term health impacts. They're trying to lead an industry push for more responsible mining; support one of the retailers that have signed on to the effort, or even better, just buy vintage.

The Wine

Most of what we hear about grape growers and wine makers concerns the way they're being threatened by climate change, but the industry isn't always great for the environment, either -- think water waste, the use of poisonous chemicals and even agriculture-related CO2 emissions. And watch out for additives: processed wine is more common than many realize, and the health implications of that are unclear.

Read up on vineyards that subscribe to best practices or are independently certified as sustainable. And when choosing a bottle, keep in mind that corks are more eco-friendly than screw tops.

The Dinner

There's no better time to promote a more sustainable food system than the second-most-popular day for dining out. If you haven't made your reservation yet, choose green-certified restaurants committed to local and seasonal produce, antibiotic and hormone-free meat and sustainable seafood, and do the the same if you plan to stay home and cook.

The Sex Toys

For something so incredible intimate, sex toys are unregulated by FDA. Their designation as "for novelty use only" allows manufactures to get away with making them out of all sorts of nasty things you wouldn't want to put in or near your body -- like PVCs (the most environmentally harmful plastic out there) and phthalates, endocrine disrupters that are linked to birth defects and other reproductive issues.

Demand is so high for better options that the company behind the world's first 100 percent environmentally friendly vibrator -- which started as an April Fools' prank -- said it would start rolling out the product for real. So far, unfortunately, it looks like it's still just a concept -- but there are plenty of other eco-safe options out there.

And don't forget to recycle.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Child Labor Chocolate Climate Change Environmentalism Local Sustainable Food Valentines Day