1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: Have yourself a green Valentine's Day

Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Does the annual commercial mugging by pink hearts aka Valentine’s Day set your teeth on edge? I believe in love, and am a sucker for a truly romantic gesture, but waste-consciousness is yet another reason, if not to abstain, then to adapt your V-day habit. It’s become a sea of red paper, tinsel, yet more pink plastic puffery and mediocre chocs rattling around in way too much packaging.

The other day, I saw a delightful set of Green Valentine’s suggestions in a local high-school letter, and hoped to get permission to reprint them. But what with loadshedding (euphemism for rolling blackouts imposed by a national power supplier so corrupt and incompetent it can’t even keep the lights on), the messages didn’t get through. But the teenage author and I definitely have the same principal idea: DON’T BUY ANYTHING FOR V-DAY. (If you must, then read on for suggestions.)

Let’s start with the traditional items on the list: red roses. Sorry, but no. If you insist on cut flowers, try for something indigenous and local — that hasn’t been whizzed around the country or the globe in a cargo plane. In fact, replace cut flowers with a plant. A colourful pot plant can be just as beautiful as a bouquet, and even nicer is an edible plant, or something cute and quirky, like a water-wise succulent. (Look out for ones in rudely suggestive shapes, if that floats your honey’s boat.)

Next, chocolates and their ilk. Far be it from me to suggest you eschew chocolate, proven to lift the spirits. But have you looked closely at the packaging involved, especially for the kinds where the confections are not only in a box apparently designed by German car manufacturers, but individually wrapped? So what’s to do?

Break out an apron, and get baking. So many possibilities: heart-shaped biscuits, delicious coconut-date-nut balls for your vegan sweetheart, home-made peanut brittle (you can even make your own Nutella — ridiculously easy AND sans palm oil), and a thousand variations on chocolate brownies and muffins. (A friend makes legendary flour-free brownies with butter beans.) What’s especially nice about this kind of V-day gesture is that you’ll be making entire batches, so there’s a lot more love to go around – you can show up at your child’s school, your sewing collective, your workshop, or your book club with cupcakes for your colleagues, kids’ teachers, friends and even your enemies. Of which you will promptly have less.

Make a card, instead of buying one. Look around for a bright postcard to repurpose, or dig around in your craft supplies. Get your children in on the act. Ask them to think of people who might need a cheering word and will appreciate a pretty homemade card.

Yes, a special meal in a restaurant is nice. And it’s completely possible to have a low-impact or even zero-waste evening out (see this reminder of how cafes and restaurants can make a green difference). But consider whipping up something special at home. You and your spice can share the work: one of you can do a starter and pud, the other the main course and salad. Time to liberate all the candles in the house: thanks to &^%$# Eskom (see above), you’ll probably need them anyway.

Spa treatments? How about administering a massage or beauty treatment in the privacy of your own home? Trust me, giving a good back rub or scalp massage is NOT difficult. The ever-reliable Google will tell you how, and once again, You Tube is your friend (if your sensibilities are delicate, don’t click on anything that looks like porn.)

There are simple tricks that leave only delicate footprints on the earth: pour some oil (almond, coconut, olive) into a small dish and then place that in a larger dish of hot water for a minute, so that the oil warms up to blood heat. Add a few drops of fragrance oil or perfume. Apply to the skin of your sweetheart and rub in slow strokes. You’ll be popular. If that sounds too complicated, with potential for spilling or scalding, here’s a foolproof version: invite your dear one to choose a body lotion or cream they like from your bathroom cupboard, then pop it in the microwave for ten seconds. (Test the temperature at this point: it may need another five seconds.) The resulting warm, fragrant lotion is a winner. Warm flannels and hot towels are also good ideas. Just don’t set the house on fire.

But, but, the economy, you say: all those businesses that rely on this kind of “special day” commercial traffic. Doesn’t this green stuff cut them off at the knees?

This is not a day for a lecture on our blindly consumptive economy, so by all means splurge on a spa, or a restaurant meal, or a showy bunch of blooms if you have the means (try to pick a supplier that seems to be doing more than going through the green motions). But take your widowed friend out to dinner, send your elderly aunt the flowers, treat someone battling with physical or mental health issues to the spa pampering. Make it up to your loved one in kisses.

Finally, and this is for all the blokes out there: the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the waste you’ll generate in your lifetime and in perpetuity: have a vasectomy. It’s also the most romantic gesture you can ever make. Giving men the snip is infinitely more sensible than sterilising women (we’re fertile three days a month for thirty years, you’re a potential bunny rabbit every single day from puberty until the grave), as well as safer, cheaper, medically less invasive, etc.

Too much? OK, then try this, the sweetest V-day suggestion to land in my inbox: the option to send your crush a romantic card mentioning a date with a dreamy vet. VET?! OK, we’re trying to be cute here: animal sterilisation charity SA MAST have the loveliest idea of sending Valentine’s cards on your behalf to whoever makes your heart beat faster in exchange for a donation towards spaying or neutering a cat or dog in Khayelitsha. This poster did make my knees a little weak: the pics are for swooning. Here’s the link with all the details you need. Do this, and a whole lot of people and animals will have a genuinely happy Valentine’s Day.

Helen Moffett