Q. What can you tell us about the issues surrounding sustainability in the flower industry?
A. Unfortunately it’s a pretty long list of issues, most of which is unknown to the public. I didn’t know about any of these problems until I started my career in floristry so it’s no wonder is such an ongoing issue.
The most common misconception about flowers is that they probably come from Holland. Whilst technically this isn’t false, that doesn’t mean the flowers are necessarily grown here. Holland is known globally for being the largest fresh flower distributor in the world. Meaning flowers are often grown as far as South America, are then shipped to Holland to be sold on auction, and then can be distributed to the consumer (as far as in Japan) – all within 3 days. Flowers are mostly flown on huge refrigerated cargo ships which have a huge environmental cost.
Many of the flower farm workers are living in poverty and have little to no workers rights, care or fair wages. The flowers are often sprayed with fertilisers and preservatives which would otherwise be banned here in the UK – yet the flower harvesters are expected to pick the crops with no protection to some potentially life-altering chemicals.
Most of the time when buying flowers you are likely to be buying a plastic-wrapped bouquet – which will also have been re-wrapped once or twice in its distribution process. Sometimes to advertise the original nursery, then the distributing auction house, and finally the supermarket or florists brand name. It really is a continual cycle of waste and overproduction everywhere you look.
Lastly, the other main issue (although there really are more than I have time to list here!) is Floral Foam – or otherwise known as Oasis. This is the green foamy stuff which your flower-arranging-grandma probably once used! You can poke your finger in it and it goes all squishy. Basically this stuff is the cherry on the cake for floral environmental damage. Floral foam is made of a complex combination of microplastics which don’t biodegrade, poison marine life, and hold carcinogenic properties. It has been detected in the stomachs of almost all tested seabirds in the UK, and has been coined as the florists version of asbestos – leaving no living creature safe from the stuff! Unfortunately there is still no off-the-shelf alternative to floral foam, as the properties it needs in floral design is very hard to replicate. Meaning it is still very much widely used, mostly in wedding floristry and funeral work.