Flower-Buying: A Thorn in the side of Environmental Protection?

By Julie Boukobza, GLOBUS Correspondent

When buying flowers, we may imagine them to come from nice locally grown flower farms, straight from the ground and bathed in sunshine. For most of the flowers you will see in your everyday shop, however, this is not the case. The UK accounts for 17% of worldwide cut flower consumption, ranking as the 4th major consumer in the world. According to the BBC, 90% of cut flowers bought in the UK are imported, with 80% of these arriving on British shores via the Netherlands. Since the emergence of floral art in the 16th century, this small state has become a hub of the floral business. Flowers in the Netherlands are usually imported from Kenya, Ethiopia or South America, where labor costs are low and and sun is available throughout the year.

Foreign production, despite making flowers accessible all year long, can have negative effects on the environment. Flowers consume a considerable amount of energy. For instance, let’s take the example of Valentine roses. Roses only grow naturally in the period from May to October. So, how are the 250 million roses sold on the 14th of February produced? In the Northern hemisphere, in attempt to recreate growing conditions of the South, production can be hugely energy-intensive. For example, in the Netherlands, it is necessary to heat and illuminate greenhouses 24/7.  

Moreover, once flowers are produced in African and South American countries, they need to be transported – a task almost exclusively completed by plane. The BBC states that “time is critical: for every extra day spent traveling flowers lose 15% of their value”. The containers in which these flowers are transported must also be refrigerated, which burns yet more fuel, and releases more emissions. Refrigerated trucks use 25% more fuel than those that are not refrigerated. Furthermore, most trucks in the US still run on diesel which pollutes air more than gasoline. 

Another problem with imported flowers is that they are produced using many pesticides to make them grow faster and last longer. In 2014, Greenpeace analysed plants from garden centers, supermarkets and DIY stores in 10 European countries. Almost 98% of the analysed samples contained traces of a total of 76 different pesticides, from which a total of 14% of them were not allowed in Europe. These pesticides are persistent in the environment, and particularly very dangerous for pollinating bees.

The harm caused by the flower industry inspired the creation of the SlowFlowers movement. Born in the US, this movement encourages consumers to support the local producers by purchasing cut flowers grown locally, seasonally and ethically in the United States, instead of flowers imported from other countries or grown using chemicals and pesticides.

Header Image: Photo by Irina on Unsplash 

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