Go for greener flowers and cards for Mother’s Day

It is tacky to leave a price tag on a Mother’s Day gift, but some other kinds of tags or labels are useful. A store label might enable a return and refund.

Labels printed on the back of Mother’s Day greeting cards might also be useful if you want your mother to know how her card affected the environment.

The label on the back of a greeting card can provide useful environmental information. A good statement says, “Printed on recycled paper.” A better statement says, “Printed on post-consumer recycled paper.” Distinguishing the type of recycled paper is important so you know it was not made from mill scrap or other post-industrial sources, which would most likely have been recycled anyway, regardless of consumer demand for recycled products.

The best cards include a statement specifying not only post-consumer content, but the amount. It might say, “Printed on 30% post-consumer recycled content.” The term “post-consumer” signifies paper processed through collection systems, which may have otherwise gone to a landfill. Using products made from post-consumer material increases market demand for recyclables, powering our country’s recycling system by making recycling more cost effective.

Many cards include a statement, “Printed on responsibly sourced paper.” “That means nothing,” said Nicole Kurian, Legislative Director of Californians Against Waste. “A card with that printed statement should at least include a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council,” she added, referencing an organization certifying responsible practices, such as replanting, erosion prevention, and habitat preservation beyond minimum standards required by law.

A label with the term “recyclable” might also have little meaning, especially if it is caveated with “where appropriate recycling programs are available.” In Ventura County, cards should go into curbside recycling carts only if they do not include glitter, ribbon or other attachments.

Cards with battery-powered electronic elements might be, environmentally, the worst. An electronic card may make a cute song when your mother opens it, but if she is an avid recycler, your gift burdens her with the task of detaching the battery and bringing it to a drop-off center.

Flowers are another common Mother’s Day gift, and these can have labels, too. California produces more than 74 percent of the cut flowers grown in the United States, a $10.3 billion industry, according to Californiagrown.org, the eponymous website of a nonprofit cooperative marketing organization. California Grown certifies agricultural products grown in the state and authorizes growers to use a label stating, in all-capital golden letters on a blue background, “CA GROWN.” The logo is in the shape and font of standard California license plates.

A coalition of American flower farms licenses a similar certification program, designating flowers grown in the United States. The organization’s logo, a red, white and blue heart with stars in the upper left corner, includes the logo “Certified American Grown Flowers: Take pride in your flowers.”

The provenance of flowers is important, not just for patriotic pride, but also for environmental reasons. The less a product travels, generally, the lower its carbon footprint from trucking and shipping. Also, American flowers are grown under American labor and environmental standards. In February, when I was writing a similar column for Valentine’s Day, Debra Prinzing, founder of the Slow Flowers Society and author of a book by the same name, explained an important inspection criteria at the ports of Miami and Los Angeles, where imported flowers arrive in the country. Flowers clear customs only if inspectors certify the shipment is free of bugs, but flowers are not inspected for pesticide residue. “We don’t eat flowers, so who cares?” she asked rhetorically, before pointing out the first thing people do when they receive flowers. “They stick their nose deep into the bouquet and inhale.”

Over 500 acres of Ventura County cropland and greenhouses produce cut flowers, with an annual value over $30 million, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s 2021 Ventura County Crop Report (the 2022 report has not yet been published). Buying flowers at a local farmers market is a good way to ensure your flowers are grown nearby.

“Each certified farmers market manager selects which certified producers can sell at their market,” said John Beall, Ventura County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner. “Flowers are not necessarily from Ventura County. However, our office ensures the sellers at certified farmers markets are selling only what they grow, so if the farmer drove here that morning, the flowers are probably not grown too far away.”

Flowers may also be certified organic; there are 30 acres of organic cut flowers and nursery stock in Ventura County, according to the crop report.

“We also verify third-party organic certification at certified farmers markets,” added Beall.

The “organic” label from California Certified Organic Farmers could be a meaningful addition to a heartfelt Mother’s Day gift of flowers.

David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at david.goldstein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.