Valentine's Day is second only to Christmas in terms of consumer spending. In 2011, Americans spent $3.4 billion dollars on romantic cards, flowers, candy, jewelry and other items related to the holiday. It's not just an American holiday, either - Britain, Mexico, Australia and several other countries join in the romance of the day, adding to the amount spent. Although there are many ways to enjoy Valentine's Day on a budget, many of the most popular Valentine's gifts are also the most wasteful.

Greeting Cards
This year, an estimated one billion greeting cards will be sent on Feb. 14, and most of those will end up in a landfill. If you add in the number of trees that it took to create that paper, the pollution created by the various factories to produce the cards and the transportation costs from factory to store to recipient, you can see the waste created by a single card. Cards are one of the best Valentine's Day gifts, but this year you may want to consider sending your Valentine an e-card. It conveys the same sentiment and produces little to no waste. Alternatively, if you are a bit crafty, you can make your own card from items you already have. Your own words, even if you're not a poet, will be cherished far more than those in a purchased card.

While flowers are one of those Valentine's Day gifts that won't break the bank and roses are beautiful, cut flowers are, in fact, dead flowers, and they don't last very long.

Over the last decade, domestic flower production has dwindled, and the majority of cut roses are now imported to the United States. Many of these growers are not subject to the same environmental standards as domestic producers are. These flower producers may use a tremendous amount of pesticides, many of which are banned in the U.S., in order to bring you those perfect petals. If you must have roses as a Valentine's Day gift, look for "fair trade" roses, which are produced by responsible growers that use earth-friendly methods. You might also consider a potted plant. A living plant with its roots in dirt can add oxygen to your home, and it will continue to grow long after cut roses have been forgotten.

Nearly 36 million heart-shaped boxes, along with cellophane, paper wrappers and foil, will also add to the landfill problem. Much of the candy is in wrappings that are not biodegradable and will last forever in a landfill, which makes candy a very wasteful gift.

What's lurking inside those boxes might also make you think twice about giving one to your special someone. A significant amount of the candy you see on store shelves has been manufactured in countries where strict cleanliness guidelines are nonexistent, and those candies contain a significant amount of pesticides. Be cautious when giving chocolates by checking their labels for a country of origin. Instead, consider giving homemade cookies, or purchase Valentine's sweets from a local bakery so you know they are fresh and tasty.

The Bottom Line
Valentine's Day gifts can be fun, romantic and create very little waste. Potted plants, gift certificates for spa treatments or a fondue pot to dip fruit into chocolate during an evening spent together all make wonderful romantic gifts. Adding a little creativity to your gift giving will not only help you avoid some common Valentine's Day blunders, save you money and save landfill space, it will also be appreciated by the recipient long after the holiday has passed.

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