Once a year we are assaulted with pink and red heart-shaped boxes, giant stuffed bears and overpriced chocolates. But at what cost?

As stated in a report by the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend over $18.2 billion on Valentine’s Day this year.

Of that money, at least $4.4 billion will be spent on jewelry.

In the two-week period leading up to Valentine's Day, American sales of gold jewelry lead to 34 million metric tons of waste, and a study published by Earthworks states that a single gold ring produces an average of 20 tons of mine waste.

According to Earthworks, “cyanide and other deadly toxic chemicals are used to separate gold from waste rock and the average large gold mine uses over 1,900 tons of cyanide per year, while just a rice grain-sized dose of cyanide can be fatal to humans and even smaller amounts can be fatal to fish.”

“Open-pit gold mines obliterate the landscape, opening up vast craters and flattening mountaintops,” states a study published on Earthworks’ website. “Open-pit gold mines are enormous. The world's largest open pit, the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, is visible to astronauts from outer space.”

Gold mining also uses copious amounts of water. Earthworks’ Valentine’s Day 2015 Fact Sheet states that “the average gold mine uses enough water to provide the basic water needs for a population equivalent to that of a large U.S. city for a year.”

Earthworks started a campaign called “No Dirty Gold” in 2004 which seeks to educate consumers, retailers and manufacturers.

No Dirty Gold works to ensure that gold mining operations are carried out with respect to human rights and the environment, stating, “Gold mining destroys wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Over a quarter of active mines and exploration sites globally are in or near parks, refuges and other protected natural areas.”

There are, however, new alternatives to so-called “dirty gold.” Reflective Jewelry, a gallery in Santa Fe, has been the only certified Fair Trade gold jeweler in the U.S. since April 2015.

“Working with Fair Trade International, mining organizations are able to meet the strict Fair Trade Standards: working conditions, child labor laws, women’s rights, cleaner technology, health and safety of miners, and responsible environmental management,” Reflective Jewelry stated in their February press release.

“In these times, when social and environmental justice is under threat, the availability of Fairtrade Gold jewelry in North America is a radical positive occurrence,” said Marc Choyt, president of Reflective Jewelry.

With only one certified Fairtrade gold jeweler in the U.S., many people are choosing to partake in alternative Valentine’s Day festivities that are more eco-friendly, and also cheaper.

UNM Sustainability Department Chair Bruce Milne suggests making a “gratitude jar” for someone you love this Valentine’s Day as an environmentally conscious way to celebrate.

Milne said this means finding a recycled jar, like a Mason jar, and writing 10, 20, or more “gratitude statements” for that person.

“A gratitude statement goes like this: I am grateful for blank because of black,” he said. “Print the statements, cut them out individually, like fortune cookie slips, put them in the jar. Mix in generous portions of treats, chocolate kisses, whatever. Include some fancy paper for

filling. Read one statement a day, and write two more for yourself."

Other eco-friendly alternatives include hikes and picnics, going to see a local theater production or art gallery, and volunteering to help those less fortunate.

Celia Raney is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.