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How to be a sustainable consumer of flowers

by Jane Lampe |

The conservation and protection of our environment is such an important part of our lives. There are so many things we need to think about to ensure we are "responsible consumers", but not all of us have time to read up on the sustainable practices of the production of everything we consume.

It's crazy to think that a business like floristry, which uses such a beautiful, natural medium of flowers, in many ways has a HUGE impact on the environment.  A 0% impact is very hard to achieve in our work, but there are so many simple ways that we as florists are able to minimise our impact on the environment.

So I thought I would outline here are few simple things to be aware of, when you are looking to buy flowers as a gift, or for an event, if you are wishing to do so from an environmentally conscious florist.

1. Where they buy their flowers and what flowers they use

Probably the most obvious thing to look out for in a florist is where they buy their flowers.

We are so blessed in Sydney to benefit from so many beautiful local flower growers within Sydney's outskirts, and throughout NSW, who grow top quality, and stunning seasonal blooms. While not every species of flower is covered, most are at various times of the year.

And to me, like fruit and vegetables, the most beautiful, and top quality flowers, are the ones that are in season and fresh!

Seasonal, locally grown flowers have the most beautiful scent and character.

Unfortunately, many flowers available for sale are produced overseas, and shipped over to Australia by air. In particular, roses and orchids are produced and imported all year round, and flowers such as peonies are imported when in season in the northern hemisphere. This is not a sustainable, or optimal way of sourcing flowers for the following reasons:

  • While these flowers often look stunning, last a long time, and certainly have a place in floristry, the genetic changes made to the flowers to ensure their longevity come at a price, not only to the environment, but they do not have a scent, or in my mind, the beautiful character of a more naturally grown flower. 
  • They require huge amounts of packaging to protect the flowers on their trip.
  • The environmental impact resulting from the transportation of the flowers over such a huge distance.
  • Flowers that are imported all get sprayed with various chemicals when they enter the country. This is done for a good reason - ensuring biosecurity in Australia, but some of the chemicals used (namely methyl bromide) are banned in other parts of the world because of concerns about them being carcinogenic. 

2. Preserved v dried flowers

Everlasting flowers and arrangements are becoming increasingly popular for their longevity.

Preserved flowers look amazing, have such cool colours, and last forever! They definitely have their place.

But the jury is out on the preservation practises, using vast amounts of bleach, and then dye, to achieve the vibrant colours.

Another issue with preserved flowers is that the majority of processing occurs overseas, typically in countries which have poor environmental records, and not always in the country the flower was grown. This means their carbon footprint is extremely high as they've travelled all over the world before they get to Australia. It also means the preserving processes is likely to have negative impacts on the local environment, especially waterways.

Dried flowers, on the other hand, are naturally grown, and dried naturally. While they don't always have the same vibrant colours, they have a beautiful character. You can read more about flowers that dry nicely here.

2. The tools and materials florists use

The use of "floral foam" is a highly used medium for flower arrangements. However floral foam is in fact a plastic - each foam block, which is the size of a brick, is equivalent in weight to around 10 plastic bags.

It's composition and use results in micro plastics entering our water ways and soils, and it takes over 100 year to break down. 

You have every right to ask the florist you're dealing with to not use floral foam in your event flowers, including installations and table arrangements, and there are many other ways of arranging flowers without the use of floral foam.

While I have certainly been guilty of using floral foam in the past, I try my hardest now to use other ways to arrange our flowers. For our table arrangements we uses interesting vases wherever we can, with frogs or wire to hold flowers in place where required.

A real challenge to be aware of is keeping flowers fresh in our installations. Bases made of moss is one solution, carefully building vases into our structures (see an example of this below, looking beautiful I might add :)), and simply using flowers that we know will stay fresh out of water for the required time, or even dried flowers. 

At this wedding we did the flowers for a few weeks ago, we used a metal structure and added beautiful vases to hold the flowers.

3. Packaging

Packaging of flowers can cause a huge impact on the environment. Florists need to pack the flowers to hold water to keep them fresh, and wrap them to protect them, not to mention present them well!

Plastic is often used to wrap flowers, however a suitable alternative to this is biodegradable cellophane. It looks nice, holds water, but breaks down over a matter of days or weeks.

Flowers wrapped in biodegradable cellophane

Paper is obviously recyclable, or if flowers are delivered in vases, these can be reused. Even better if the vases are produced locally and not imported.

So feel free to ask your florist how they wrap their flowers, and if their wrapping is recyclable or biodegradable!

4. How they deal with their waste

So much waste is produced by florists, it's important to know how they dispose of this, so feel free to ask them what they do as part of their waste management plan!

Green waste can be composted if they have the means for this, or separated into green bins for council collection.

So many of our flowers are bought from the markets in soft plastic wrapping. These aren't currently recycled by councils, but can be taken to Coles or Woolworths who recycle them.

I hope this helps you to know what to look out for in your florist. While we are far from perfect at Floreat, we are so aware of the impact our business has on the environment, and we try to use as many of these practises as we can. It's not always the easiest or cheapest solution, but in the long term its best for us all.

I would just like to thank fellow Sydney florist and sustainable floristry advocate Sophie Schlachter for her help writing this article, as well as all the other florists I've consulted over the last couple of years as we have strived to become more sustainable.

A foam-free world is something many of us strive for but struggle with, as it is something that has been so widely used for so long. But everyone is always so helpful in spreading the word on ways to do our work with out it, it's very admirable. 

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