Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like Secondhand Roses

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Roses on Valentine’s Day don’t seem like such a kind gesture when you think about them getting shipped to the city on cargo planes from Ecuador, or decomposing in landfills and converting to methane gas.

So what’s a climate-conscious romantic to do?

Consider the case of Leatal Cohen, an idealistic young florist and the owner of Pic and Petal. She was hired by a man who wished to propose to his girlfriend while surrounded by hundreds of flowers. Yes, it would be beautiful and lavish. But wasteful, too. Could she temper it somehow?

“You know when you cook food, and there are leftovers, and they just go into the garbage?” Ms. Cohen said. “It just doesn’t feel good, even though you know it was enjoyed.”

So, a few hours after the newly engaged couple’s fairy tale moment, Ms. Cohen asked Aviva and Arielle Vogelstein, sisters and the founders of ReVased, which repurposes and resells slightly used floral arrangements, to dismantle and transport the 350 proposal flowers to Ms. Cohen’s apartment in Downtown Brooklyn.

“Flower repurposing is one of the biggest things happening in the events industry right now,” said Nicki Fleischner, the founder of Plan with Purpose, a website that showcases ethically-minded event vendors. “There are more companies coming out of the woodwork all the time.”

Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Jennifer Grove, an event planner, started Repeat Roses in 2014. Her company will pick up flowers after an event, restyle them, and transport them to a local nonprofit, like the Dwelling Place, a women’s homeless shelter and a regular recipient. When the flowers wilt, the company will deliver them to a composting facility. “To date we’ve diverted 197,137 pounds of waste from landfills,” Ms. Grove said earlier this month.

But Ms. Grove’s services aren’t cheap. Flower handling fees start at $1,750. This might explain the company’s heavy celebrity following.

Last Sunday, for example, Repeat Roses transported 590 pounds of florals from the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills to the nearby Ronald McDonald House and the East Los Angeles Women’s Center. And last February, it collected flowers from Meghan Markle’s baby shower at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side and took them to local charities, including the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge. The flowers were later composted.

Of course, people could also forgo flowers altogether, said Elizabeth Balkan, director of the food waste program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We are not going to compost our way out of the flower issue, because there is still an enormous amount of resources used to create them,” she said.

In other words, why did the Duchess of Sussex, a self-proclaimed environmental advocate, have 389 pounds of flowers as part of her baby shower in the first place?

Because people love them, so to cancel them is unrealistic, said Jenny Flax, an event planner who has convinced many of her clients to use Repeat Roses for bar and bat mitzvahs. “People want to use flowers, but you can help them see how the amount of waste is alarming and what they can do to help.”

Ms. Balkan, like Ms. Cohen of Pic and Petal, compared rotting flowers to food waste. “A loaf of edible bread that has gone moldy and is composted, that is not a win,” she said. “That bread shouldn’t have gone moldy. It should have been frozen or given to a friend or used to make bread crumbs.”

Individuals who receive flowers can do their part as well, Ms. Balkan said. “Press them, repurpose them, turn them into soap,” she said. Or refuse them altogether. “I’ve seen people give potted plants or herbs as gifts.”

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