Environmental Impacts of Cut Flowers

Some of you may not appreciate this blog post. I apologize in advance; I myself am very sad that one of my favorite things is so detrimental to the environment. I am talking about cut flowers, and unless you, like me, live in Seattle where five-dollar bouquets of local blooms are readily accessible, you are probably getting flowers that have been grown under terrible conditions and flown halfway around the world.

Most of the flowers we buy here in the States come from South America. The constant warm weather provides great growing conditions for the flowers, but to keep production at a maximum, the flowers are frequently sprayed with an excessive amount of chemicals. Then, to keep the flowers as fresh as possible, the flowers are flown to North America, transported across the continent in temperature-controlled trucks and stored in refrigeration units.
There are many issues here and it doesn’t end when someone buys a bouquet, but we’ll briefly touch on that later. Let’s start with the chemicals. The pesticides used are highly limited in all countries where these flowers end up, but not at all where the flowers are grown; these chemicals create higher risks of miscarriage, neurological problems and respiratory illnesses in the laborers, most of whom are women and sometimes children as well.
Once the flowers leave these chemical-ridden farms, they are transported over thousands of miles to grocery stores, floral shops and corner stands. Transportation is one of the leading generators of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When millions of flowers are driven and flown this far each day, you can imagine how much the transportation of flowers must contribute to the pollution of our air and water. On top of all this, the flowers are stored in chilled warehouses after harvest and in refrigerated trucks to and from the airport. These refrigeration units are energy vampires to say the least!
To give you an idea of how much flowers can create a spike in GHG emissions, I’ll tell you about the consequences of floral purchases during a single Valentine’s Day in the United States. Americans purchase about 100 Million roses each year in early February and the transportation of these flowers from South America to North America and then throughout the U.S. and Canada produces 9,000 metric tons of CO2. The EPA’s GHG equivalence calculator tells us that these emissions equal ANNUAL emissions of nearly 1,900 passenger vehicles or CO2 emissions from over one million gallons of gasoline consumed. That’s not a trivial amount! Sadly, this is not even the end of the adverse effects.
Once these flowers are in the States, they are transported to various shops again via refrigerated truck and stored in chilled units until someone buys them. Then, after a few days or a week, the flowers are tossed in the trash since most cities don’t have composting resources, bins or ordinances. The flowers end up in landfills where they decay and emit methane, a gas more potent than CO2 and is the second most prevalent GHG contributor to global warming.

To top it all off, most grocery stores and flower shops wrap the flowers in cellophane and plastic tubes, which also go directly to the landfill.
When I first looked into this, I was determined to never buy fresh flowers again. However, you can make responsible floral purchasing decisions and not give up having a pretty bouquet in your home once in a while. Most importantly, determine what flowers are in season. You’ll be more likely to find flowers that have been grown locally and without all the chemicals. Also, ask your florist or local expert for sustainably grown and/or certified organic arrangements. These flowers, and other plants, will have been grown in a sustainable environment with socially responsible practices.
What’s your favorite flower? Do you know when it’s in season? See? No need to give up cut flowers completely! Just make sure you know what you’re getting.