A day for love and its impacts on the environment



Common gifts such as flowers,chocolates and balloons flood stores around Valentine’s day.

As February 14th rolls around the corner, love has been in the air. The aisles of stores have been bombarded with pink hearts, boxes of chocolates, and a flourishing floral section, so we can find a simple way to say “ I love you” to those that matter most.

However, hidden behind all the love, lies the world’s ongoing environmental issues. Global warming, landfill overfill, and plastic practically swimming in the ocean are among some of the ongoing issues our Earth is facing; popular Valentine’s day gifts are only adding to the problem. In fact, according to Plastic Oceans, Valentine’s Day “Adds up to more carbon emissions than would be created from driving around the world 3,993 times.

 Fossil fuels and carbon emissions are perhaps the biggest contributor to Global warming today, because they trap heat in the atmosphere. The U.N. states, “Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas… accounting for over 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.”  Of course, it isn’t the only factor, as natural causes also contribute such as volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, or cloud coverage. However, the increase of global warming in the past few decades is primarily man-made.

 Climate.gov reports, “ the combined land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit… per decade since 1880; however, the average rate of increase since 1981 has been more than twice as fast: 0.32 °F (0.18 °C) per decade.”

Plastic is everywhere. Almost everything you can buy comes with some sort of plastic. Whether it is made of it or packaged in it, thousands of pieces of plastic get thrown away on a daily basis. Where does all the trash go? 

The landfill process is as follows: garbage trucks drive through neighborhoods, collecting trash. Once the trucks are full, (some being able to hold up to 12-14 million tons according to SC Department of Health and Environmental Control ). Once full, the trucks drive on a scale, get the waste weighed and the process is repeated with waste continuing to pile. Global Citizen reports, “The US generates more than 258 million tons of municipal solid waste each year …”

 Not only is landfill overfill an issue, but timely decomposing rates play a role in the larger issue at hand. Valentine’s day gifts such as balloons, take 450 years to decompose.

Arvada’s West’s Environmental science teacher Mary Kosloski explains, “Decomposition is the breakdown of materials. Eventually, this results in the recycling of materials. For example, if you leave a leaf in your front yard all winter it will decay as bacteria and fungi and insects break it down. This returns the nutrients to the environment.”

She continues, “In landfills, there is often very low oxygen so decomposition is slow, even of things that would normally decay quickly like bread crusts and banana peels. Some things take a very long time to decay in landfills: disposable diapers take hundreds of years! Plastic bags take 10-20 years, and plastic cups and bottles take hundreds of years.”

  With landfill overfill and a global reliance on plastic, this is one way our ecosystem is suffering through human waste. Purchases that only last for a short amount of time or will be thrown out the next day leave an impactful mark on the environment, and Valentine’s day is a time where this type of waste skyrockets.

Obviously, the Earth’s environmental issues aren’t limited to land, aquatic habitats are exposed to human waste as well.  As a matter of fact, “In 2019, 6.1 million tonnes (Mt) of plastic waste leaked into aquatic environments and 1.7 Mt flowed into oceans,” OECD  informs.

Marine Biology teacher, Matthew Kansteiner explains, “Micro plastics are one of the highest issues. People often think of big chunks of plastic in the ocean, but what happens overtime, is that plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Then, the tiny organism like the fish eats pieces of plastic thinking that’s its food. Then the fish eat my big fish, then bigger fish, and eventually humans. The plastics get transferred in the food web causing disruptions.”

He adds, “When we study biology and ecosystems, the food webs are these naturally developed systems over time, and when enough species are getting pulled from that ecosystem, you’ll have a species lose a food source or a different species loses a predator. This causes a different group of animals to grow exponentially, which leads to disruption in the flow of energy that causes ecosystem collapse. Also, humans eat fish, we use the ocean so we are also influenced by our plastic creation in a way.”

Our plastic use also backfires on humans by disrupting systems in our bodies through harmful chemicals. Phthalates are one of many chemicals used in plastic and that according  to env-health, “… scientists have linked exposure to the most common phthalates with a range of health impacts, including reproductive disorders, overweight, insulin resistance, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

  Kansteiner expands and comments,“ When we get plastic in us, it causes disruption in our endocrine system. It inhabits certain hormone release inside of our body, particularly inside of  a mother or a young child as they are developing and going through development stages such as puberty.”

To add, in one study, National Geographic describes, “… found plastics in the blood of 17 of 22 healthy blood donors; the lung study found microplastics in 11 of 13 lung samples taken from 11 patients.”

  In today’s age, there is no perfect way to be 100% sustainable with the environment in mind all the time. Colorado currently has multiple plans in the works toward making our state more sustainable. However, with Valentine’s Day so soon, it is important to remember our Earth and that there are ways to be more Eco-friendly in your everyday life. Instead of spending money on gifts that will be thrown out so soon, opt for some homemade gifts with materials that you already have at home, as there are better ways to show someone you care while keeping the planet in mind.  It is crucial to recognize the problems that we face today and take action now to be a part of the solution so that we can love the Earth as much as it has loved us.