Friday, December 19, 2008

Cut Flowers and the Environment ...

For many, beautiful arrangements of fresh cut flowers are a must for a holiday table. Bouquets of unusual flowers make easy gifts ... grab a bundle from most supermarkets or order a bouquet online to be delivered. Whether one needs a hostess gift, something for a special someone or a gift for the "hard to please", cut flowers will accommodate. That's what the $40 billion a year, cut flower industry tells us. What they don't tell us is how bad they are for the environment.

Most cut flowers, approximately 79%, are grown in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. They are grown in climate controlled greenhouses using pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides ... including DDT and methyl-bromide which are banned in the U.S. These substances have been linked to health problems such as skin conditions, respiratory problems, impaired vision, and birth defects. Many of the people who staff the greenhouses, and who come in contact with the flowers on a daily basis, are now suffering from these problems.

Not only are workers being hurt ... the environment is suffering as well. Methyl-bromide has been linked to the destruction of the ozone layer. DDT usage has caused serious problems for many animal and bird populations. Small amounts of these chemicals are dangerous ... most greenhouses, however, aren't using just a little ... they are using a lot. It contaminates the ground and water, hurting animal and fish populations and it reduces the amount of drinkable water in many communities.

Once the growing stage is complete, the cut flowers are sent all over the world. They travel far distances, and as we've talked about before ... anything that travels a long distance is causing pollution and using a lot of resources to make the trip. A
n estimated 500 million make their way into the U.S. In order to pass inspection upon entry, they are often sprayed with more toxic chemicals so that no bugs or insects make the trip ... and so that each and every blossom looks it's best. Florists in this country touch these flowers and are reporting skin rashes and breathing problems.

There's still more ... once the flowers get to a florists shop, they are typically arranged using floral foam which helps to hold them in place. This foam is a petroleum bi-product that off gases formaldehyde when soaked in water. It is also non-biodegradable. A leaf shine product is typically used to shine up the greenery ... this is an aerosol product and aerosol products hurt the environment.

What about the flowers produced in the U.S.? Are they better? While they may not use banned chemicals, many farms and greenhouses use a lot of pesticides. These are harmful ... to the earth and all of her inhabitants.

So ... should one forgo cut flowers as a gift? Not necessarily. Look for organic flowers, grown locally if possible. Make a point of asking about that beautiful bouquet ... is it arranged with floral foam ... is it sprayed with anything. And by the way ... many live plants are grown in the same conditions so ... know where your product comes from. Basically, use the same guidelines buying cut flowers and plants as you would buying food.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!