Why the Mainstream Cut-Flower Industry is Bad for the Environment
February 13, 2018 • 4 min read
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Cut flowers are undoubtedly a common gift when it comes to major holidays and events like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, baby and bridal showers, and graduations. So many celebrate their love with a bunch of roses or blooms, a beautiful gift from the earth…or so we are led to believe. Many of us are unaware of the environmental and social impact those mainstream cut flowers have. We thought it’d be wise to share with you the true cost of cut flowers, and why, especially around major holidays, they should be avoided.
Most of us don’t think about where those flowers sitting pretty in the florist’s shop or supermarket originate from. We assume they’re an environmentally-friendly gift seeing as they are natural and organic, and will go back into the earth. This, sadly, couldn’t be further from the truth. To understand just how big of an ecological and social impact those petals have, we’ll take you through the journey of a bouquet of flowers, from seed to vase. Please note that this is specifically for mainstream, non-organic flowers. We’re big fans of locally-grown, organic, and non-GMO blossoms!
You might also like: Ideas for Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping
First, some background information:
- The global trade of cut flowers is valued at $100 billion a year!
- The largest exporter of cut flowers is unsurprisingly, The Netherlands, followed by Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
- Canada imports most of our flowers from Latin America, and North America in general imports around 78% from Central America.
Seeds are planted in countries in Latin America because of their temperate year-round weather, coupled with cheap labour and free-trade policies. Besides an ideal growing environment, the condition these flowers are grown in are far from organic. With the demand in countries like the US and Canada being so high, especially around major holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, these flowers are exposed to a cocktail of toxic agrochemicals such as fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides to ensure they stay pretty, keep diseases away, and grow faster. These toxins have a hugely negative impact on the air, soil and water supply of the region, not to mention the vulnerable workers, who are mostly women and sometimes children. The most concerning part about these chemicals is that most of them are strictly banned in the US, Canada and Europe. Because the flowers are not considered agriculture in terms of an edible crop, they escape regulations and the industry has very little controls in place.
The makeup of the people who work in the floriculture industry are mostly women, and as mentioned, sometimes children. These women are usually from vulnerable and less affluent backgrounds, where their access to education has been next to non-existent, making many of them desperate for work. The poor working conditions, low pay, over-crowding, and long hours makes for a terrible environment, and many of these women suffer from respiratory diseases, neurological impairment, and have even reported higher numbers of miscarriages. In East African countries, greenhouse workers who are mostly women, are not paid enough to even cover basic needs.
Once the flowers are ready to be picked, their journey onwards, from crop to store, leaves a giant eco-footprint. After being harvested, they are stored in a climate-controlled warehouse, one that takes a ton of energy to run. They are then transported to the airport in a refrigerated truck, flown to their North American destinations (all those carbon emissions!), and then re-housed in a refrigerated truck to be shipped to their respective supermarkets and florists. Then at the florist or supermarket, they are once again popped into a chilled case, waiting for someone to take them home. The journey your bouquet of flowers has traveled is a lengthy one, and we can’t help but feel like importing something as fleeting as flowers is well…almost non-sensical.
Your bouquet’s ecological footprint hasn’t yet been complete. Once you’ve chosen your bouquet, it is usually wrapped in plastic/cellophane and tied with non-recyclable ribbons. Don’t forget the plastic water tubes that are put on the stems to keep them fresh! The flowers sit pretty in a vase in your home for about a week, and then as most of us do, we dump them in the trash (unless you compost). It’s tidy to think that since they are plants they’ll just naturally degrade into the earth, but trashing your flowers means they’ll go to a landfill where we know they’ll contribute to methane gas emissions, taking eons to decompose.
Wow – who knew ALL that went on in the background of a simple flower arrangement? We absolutely love flowers here at Forage, so instead of contributing to a trade that is steeped in questionable ethics and environmental degradation, consider these alternatives that bring joy in more than one way.
But also, the gift economy and the concept of radical reciprocity should be applied here (and in everything we do). To us, it seems counterintuitive to bring a woman/person in your life imported flowers with the intention of celebrating your love for them, when the woman who grew, harvested, and packaged those same flowers did so under awful conditions. Honour the woman (or person) in your life by presenting them with a gift that hasn’t negatively impacted another.
An easy fix, and just as beautiful if not more. Buying blooms that are in season from local farms and growers is a great way to ensure ethical production, as well as a smaller environmental impact. The variety of potted plants available is huge, and these guys last a long time (just like your love!). Opt for something more metaphorically fitting this year!
Fair Trade Cut Flowers:
A better alternative to unethically cut flowers does exist! Many flowers grown by local growers have a Made in Canada (or your respective country) seal.
If the flowers are fair trade, they are usually labelled with the country of origin, and a seal from the organization. Look out for seals from Rainforest Alliance Certified, VeriFlora Certified, Sierra Eco Certified, or FlorVerde. These farms ensure fair working conditions, protected economic, environmental, and social rights, and give a voice to their workers. You can also search for local, organic florists and flower farms in your city or town, and support the shops that grow the flowers themselves, locally!
Lastly, if the flowers have been organically grown, the seal should be USDA Organic Certified. Be sure to ask your florist if they have ethical and fair-trade flowers in their shops – many of them believe customers don’t care, so they don’t bother labelling them.
Go DIY and give your loved one a few packets of rare heirloom flower seeds, a vintage flower pot, and some cute gardening gloves. Plant your seeds together and let your love blossom.
Having an intention behind your gift is always highly valued. Whether it’s in the form of a potted plant or seed, gift flowers that are favoured by honey bees. You can plant them together in the spring, and do something great for the rapidly dwindling honey bee colonies. Some flowers and herbs honey bees favour are: lavender, sage, thyme, geranium, aster, calendula, poppies, sunflowers, crocus, borage and buttercup.
Cut Your Own:
A fun activity to do (solo or with your loved one) is to visit a local flower farm and cut your own blooms. Many local farms offer this during peak growing seasons, and it’s a great way to connect with the earth and the process of flower growing. It’s also a fun way to pick and choose the flowers you want, and makes the gift so much more meaningful and intentional. Check out the local flower farms in your town or city, and see if they offer flower picking programs, or if they sell the blooms they grow in their marketplace.
When the intention of a gift is love, we believe it should be spread around to all the people and plant matter involved!
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