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Roses are red, violets blue. Turns out Valentine’s flowers can be recycled, too

Roses
Wanda Smith gives Clarence Coleman a bouquet of red roses he ordered for Valentine’s Day at Flowers Texas Style in Conroe, Texas.
(Jason Fochtman / Associated Press)

As consumers, especially young ones, become more eco-conscious, services are popping up to reduce wastefulness in the flower industry, extending the life of old bouquets that were previously thrown away the day after a big event.

Considering that the floral gifting market is expected to reach $16 billion in revenue by 2023, buying from eco-friendly operations can have a huge impact. According to one estimate, the roughly 100 million roses grown for a typical Valentine’s Day in the U.S. produce about 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

“When you realize what the supply chain looks like and the number of hands that touch these flowers, and then they’re only appreciated for a couple of hours, it’s kind of disgusting when you think about the amount of resources that go into it,” says Jennifer Grove, founder of New York City-based flower service Repeat Roses.

While working as a wedding designer and corporate planner, Grove often oversaw the design of intricate floral arrangements, only to see those creations discarded within a few hours. In 2014 she founded Repeat Roses to make it easier for luxury clients to donate used bouquets. Like a traditional floral service, the company sells high-end floral decorations for weddings or social events, but it then recycles or composts them.

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If a customer chooses the signature repurposing service, a Repeat Roses team can remove the arrangements from the event and then restyle the flowers into petite bouquets to donate to hospitals, nursing homes and family shelters. If there’s a charity that holds a special place in a customer’s heart, the team will ensure the blooms are sent there. Examples include the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge at the Jerome L. Greene Family Center and the Bowery Mission Women’s Center in Manhattan.

“It’s a logistics business, and we’re trying to make sure we are strategic in where we play matchmaker,” Grove says. When the charities are finished with the flowers, Repeat Roses also picks them back up and composts them.

The altruism isn’t free — prices start at $1,750 for the removal and repurposing service to account for the transportation and labor costs. If you’re not willing to spend that much, the company will still compost the flowers from your event instead of sending them to a landfill.

Through these two methods, Repeat Roses estimates it has diverted more than 98 tons of waste from landfills and delivered almost 53,000 floral arrangements to people in need.

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Although Repeat Roses is a for-profit business, the flower repurposing itself is a tax write-off for the client. As the fair market value of a client’s donated flowers is what’s used for the charitable tax credit and is eligible for deduction, Repeat Roses ensures that the beneficiary sends you an acknowledgment letter including details of your donation.

When supplying fresh flowers to customers, the company sources locally grown blooms whenever possible. If the buds must come from international destinations such as the Netherlands, Japan and Ecuador, Repeat Roses calculates the carbon offsets or makes a donation to plant a tree through The Canopy Project.

For those interested in giving another life to their blooms without having to pay a fee, startup ReVased operates a flower recycling service in New York and Baltimore that will pick up the old flowers free of charge. Those hosting a big event with lots of floral arrangements can contact ReVased in advance to schedule a pick-up.

The company repackages the flowers for its delivery service. For every arrangement purchased, ReVased also donates flowers to nonprofits including Levindale Geriatric Center and Hospital, Goddard Riverside Senior Center and Ronald McDonald House in New York.

Sisters Arielle and Aviva Vogelstein started ReVased in 2019 after realizing how many of their own wedding flowers ended up in the trash. Although ReVased primarily works with weddings, it also repurposes flowers from business conferences, bar mitzvahs and holiday and birthday parties.

“We think there is too much waste involved and want to make ourselves as accessible as possible,” Arielle says.

The sisters’ venture received a boost from two tech accelerators, Conscious Venture Lab and AccelerateBaltimore, through which they raised $125,000 in funding. Next up, they hope to expand their operation into Washington D.C.

It’s long been a secret in the wedding industry that donating flowers to charity after the ceremony can be a tax write-off — a convenient benefit considering the average U.S. wedding costs almost $30,000.

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Nonprofits such as the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Random Acts of Flowers don’t resell blooms but instead help facilitate these donations. Founded in 2008, the group works with hospitals and nursing homes to brighten patients’ days with the leftover flowers, which come from weddings, funerals, and grocery store surplus. In the last 10 years, it’s delivered more than 340,000 bouquets and repurposed more than 356,000 vases.

April Churchill, founder of the Reflower Project in Boston, has a similar goal with her nonprofit, which she started in 2015. Florists, event planners, and wholesalers in the metropolitan area can contact her to pick up their surplus, which the Reflower Project then donates to nursing homes and women’s shelters such as Rosie’s Place.

It’s not only good for the environment but also for patients’ recovery. A 2009 study showed that those in hospital rooms decorated with flowers and potted plants needed less postoperative pain medication, had lower blood pressure and pulse rates, and were less anxious and tired than those without.

“You can really see the difference with flowers and how much joy they can bring people,” Churchill says.


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