Questions and answers: Popular Valentine's Day gift: How sustainable are cut flowers?

Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

Questions and answers: Popular Valentine's Day gift: How sustainable are cut flowers?

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. For many people, this is the perfect occasion to give flowers to their loved ones. Roses aren't just piled up at florists. Supermarkets also sell cut flowers to suit the occasion. But it's only February - and still far too cold for cultivation in this country. Where do the cut flowers come from? And how sustainable are they?

Cut flowers in winter - that's not sustainable, as Corinna Hölzel, pesticide expert at the German Federal Environment Agency and Nature Conservation Agency (BUND), says. "Valentine's Day always comes six months early." It is still too cold for regional cultivation. The cut flowers are often imported by plane from the global south at the expense of the climate, water, soil and air.

Around 330 million roses come to Germany every year from Kenya, Zambia and Ethiopia, according to BUND. Germany imports a total of 1.3 billion pieces every year. Cut flowers are also imported from South America, as Hölzel says. The flowers are brought to Europe in transport planes and then by truck to the dealers.

In Europe, too, cut flowers – such as tulips – are grown in greenhouses. The question arises as to how the greenhouses are heated, Hölzel points out. If this happens with fossil energy, the climate footprint would be worse than with renewable energies.

"It's really frightening when you think about what's in the roses," says Hölzel. In production in African countries, pesticides are sometimes used that have long been banned in the EU. Residues can be found in roses, for example.

Imported flowers in particular can be contaminated with substances that are harmful to human health, as Hölzel says. The use poses health risks, especially for the workers on the plantations.

The production of pesticides is also energy-intensive, which further worsens the climate footprint of cut flowers.

Basically, you should buy flowers regionally and seasonally, recommends Wolfdietrich Peiker from the climate protection organization Atmosfair. "It is better to give away flowers in winter that bloom at this time without additional energy requirements in Central Europe, such as Christmas roses or Lenten roses." Early bloomers such as crocuses or hyacinths as well as cherry or forsythia branches can also be an alternative.

If you absolutely need cut flowers from overseas, Fairtrade seals identify flowers that have been grown according to social and ecological standards. Organic seals can show whether flowers come from controlled organic farming. You can also look for the Slowflower seal when buying, says Hölzel. The Slowflower movement consistently focuses on regionality and sustainability in cultivation.

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