I don’t know about you, but I find myself thinking more about my purchases with regard to the environment. Since we all share this little blue and green rock floating through the vastness of space, it’s important that we take care of it.
With all the focus on the environment, I get asked quite a few questions about whether artificial plants and flowers are a more environmentally sound choice than fresh cut flowers. My answer is usually something like “They certainly can be, depending on what factors you consider.”
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Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of quantifiable statistics about how much environmental impact artificial flowers have on the environment, but let’s look at what we do know and compare it to the environmental impact of fresh cut flowers.
Depending on what the artificial flowers are made out of, the manufacturing process does produce some greenhouse emissions. Flower manufacturers also sometimes use bleaches and dyes that can be toxic to the environment if handled improperly. Silk is made from silkworms that prefer mulberry trees as their home, which requires silk manufacturers to use agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides to keep the mulberry trees healthy.
Most fresh cut flowers are also grown overseas in South America and Africa where the climate is more conducive to growing flowers year-round. However, those countries also allow for the use of pesticides that are banned in the United States and Europe. Because flowers are not considered food, growers can use those pesticides even on flowers that will be shipped to the United States and Europe.
Artificial arrangements are made mostly in overseas factories, so they must then be transported to stores around the world. However, because artificial and fake plants and flowers don’t have a shelf life, they can be boxed up and stored on cargo ships, which produce far fewer emissions than airplanes. According to the OECD Observer, “maritime shipping produces 10-15 grams of greenhouse emissions per ton-kilometer. Compare that to airplane emissions at 673-847 grams per ton-kilometer.”
Transportation is an issue for fresh cut flowers, as well, as they must be shipped by air to their destination country and then transported in refrigerated trucks to their final destinations. The International Clean Council on Transportation crunched the numbers on just flower deliveries from Colombia to the United States in the three weeks before Valentine’s Day in 2018.
That bouquet of roses might make her heart sing, but also damage the plant quite a bit.
Transporting those flowers burned 114 million liters of fuel and created about 360,000 metric tons of CO2. And because airplane emissions are released into the atmosphere at such a high altitude, they are more damaging than those emitted on the ground. Refrigerated truck transportation also requires more energy and creates more greenhouse gases than unrefrigerated transport.
Winner: When looking at emissions and toxins, artificial flowers most likely have an edge over fresh flowers, mainly based on the difference in transportation.
Most faux plants require very little packaging and what they do require for shipping is often made out of cardboard, which is biodegradable. Cardboard can be completely broken down in a compost pile or landfill in about 3 months. The packaging can also be recycled, using the cardboard for other purposes.
How your artificial flowers are packaged and what you do with the packaging can have an impact on the environment.
Cut flowers are often wrapped in cellophane or plastic packaging of some kind. Cellophane is actually a sustainable bioplastic made from plants. It will completely break down in 2 to 4 months.
Winner: When it comes to packaging, artificial plants and fresh plants are about equal in terms of environmental impact.
The three tenets of sustainability are reduce, re-use and recycle. Reusability is an important factor in living sustainably, and it’s pretty obvious that faux flowers are a clear winner in this category. The longer you use your artificial arrangements in lieu of live plants, the more positive impact they will have on your well-being and the reduction of your carbon footprint.
Depending on the flower, fresh cut flowers can last anywhere from a week to a month, but every fresh cut bouquet has a shelf life. If you want fresh flowers in your house all the time, you re-incur all of the toxins, emissions and packaging every time you purchase a new bouquet.
Artificial arrangements like this beautiful Orchid Arrangement can last for years, reducing your costs AND your carbon footprint.
Artificial flowers, on the other hand, can last for years or even decades. So, while the emissions, toxins and packaging might not be that different from fresh cut flowers, when you purchase an artificial bouquet or eco friendly plants and shrubs, you won’t re-incur those environmental costs for a long time.
Winner: Faux flowers last for years while fresh flowers last just a few weeks. Artificial flowers are the hands-down winner in this category.
When deciding between fresh cut and faux flowers, take the long view of sustainability.
Artificial flower arrangements require less care and do less damage to the environment because they can be re-used year after year. You can purchase your fresh cute flowers, sustainable plants or eco friendly plants and shrubs by purchasing from locally grown flowers. These might seem like small steps in the battle to protect our planet, but if we all work together, those small steps add up.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments.
As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.