Flowers & water don't always mix

Flowers and water don’t always mix

Florists deal with fresh flowers and plant materials that generally need water to drink. To maintain their quality, flowers need water from the moment they are picked on the farm until they reach the consumer’s door. The amazing thing about fresh flowers is that they remind us of the fragile beauty of living things, all wrapped up in one lovely package. The downside is that the very fragility that makes flowers so enchanting also means that they need to be protected and hydrated during transport.

The challenge of water and flowers

Traditionally the most common way to deal with the conundrum has been to insert the bunches into plastic sleeves. On the one hand, plastic materials have the necessary waterproofing properties and are usually economical and commercially viable. On the other hand, they aren’t necessarily the most environmentally friendly product for people who love flowers and nature and who want sustainability for our industry and our planet.

When looking for eco-friendly products, those that are biodegradable usually spring to mind. Biodegradable products by definition are those that can be broken down into simpler compounds through the action of water, light, air and microorganisms. As soon as they come into contact with water, biodegradable products will start to degrade. So this represents a clear challenge for the floral industry.

Featured in the June 2017 issue of this magazine was the article Plastics and the flower industry, which outlined the challenge for the floral industry to find eco-friendly packaging solutions that also offer essential waterproofing. I would like to offer my own thoughts on this important issue, and make suggestions on how the industry might progress towards a sustainable future.

Florists want to go green

In our industry, we have a contradiction between the will to reduce plastics and move towards eco-friendly solutions versus the need to have flower arrangements that allow flowers to drink water. How can we use environmentally friendly sundries and continue to provide water to our flowers? What are our possible alternatives to plastic?

From our experience, we know that florists want to be as eco-friendly as possible and deliver bouquets with a minimal impact on the environment. But as most readers will be aware, the florist in general is price conscious and time poor, usually resulting in the use of waterproof plastic packaging. A standing issue is that as long as the market place remains unprepared to pay a premium for a biodegradable product, the suppliers can’t get the volume necessary to bring the prices down to a competitive level.

Floral foam is another convenient product used in large quantities. On the positive side, floral foam will degrade to a dust if disposed of correctly. Unfortunately, it is not a great product, containing carbon black and formaldehyde. The good news is that Smithers-Oasis is introducing a new generation of OASIS® Floral Foam, called Maxlife, the first floral foam with enhanced biodegradability. We are trying to have the product available to Australian florists by late 2017 or early 2018. We are hoping that florists will see the benefits in using this innovative foam and will be prepared to pay nearly double the price of conventional floral foam.

In addition to this positive news, there does seem to be a shift from flower arrangements to flower bouquets, which is seeing less floral foam being used in the industry. This is giving rise to an opportunity to focus on the use of more eco-friendly flower packaging, such as sustainable natural latex rubber bands, recycled paper and biodegradable plastic.

Flowers and water don't always mix 2

Alternative products on the market

In the table above, I’ve compiled a list of some of the options for eco-friendly flower wrapping. However the principle challenge with all of these products is that they are not water resistant, which can limit their functionality.

Clear and printed cellophane, regal pearl wrap and other similar products, as well as non-woven products, may offer more in terms of practicality, but they are made of plastic or polyester materials and are therefore not biodegradable.

As far as ribbons are concerned, grosgrain, organza, non-woven and tear (also called ‘paper’) ribbons are made of plastic or nylon materials and are not biodegradable. Some of the eco-friendly alternatives on the market include those listed in the table below. Again, it is important to realise that although these products are more environmentally friendly than some others on the market, they are not water resistant.

In terms of containers, although a minimum amount of waterproofing is required when used with fresh flowers, many are eco-friendly and biodegradable. Cardboard posy boxes are made from paper and can be found at prices as low as $0.13 per box. Wooden boxes and crates are also popular options and are available in many sizes and shapes.

Flowers and water don’t always mix

Possibly there’s an advantage that florists have over flower retailers who need to prepare their flower wrapping several days in advance, as certain types of packaging and basically all paper-based wrapping do not do well in the cool room. Because of this, supermarkets need to use plastic materials for their wrapping options.

When it comes to eco-friendly packaging solutions, the best way would be to present the flowers in a box and wrap them with tissue paper for decoration. Without bothering with a flower phial at the bottom of the stems. Wouldn’t that be nice! But we all know it wouldn’t work very well. Flowers and water don’t always mix…

This article was published in the December 2017 issue of Flowers magazine, an award-winning Australian publication focusing on the whole of the flower supply chain from breeders to retailers.

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