The More You Know…
Local Flower Journey
Today I am sharing a few tidbits of what I learned about the cut flower industry and its impact on the environment. I love some of the exotic flowers available in the global flower market (talking to you Protea). However, getting those flowers to my door comes with a significant environmental cost. I am not an expert in any of this, but found the following information impactful and a bit alarming. The graphic map is an illustration to show where our flowers come from. If you do not want to risk ruining the enjoyment of non-locally grown flowers, you might want to skip this post.
Do you know where your flowers come from? Unless you are buying local, chances are they were imported from somewhere in the world. Approximately 80% of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported. Mostly from Columbia and other South and Central American countries. In 2018, US Customs and Border Protection processed 7.1 billon imported flower stems — 1.4 billion for Valentine’s Day alone!
The biggest environmental impact of imported cut flowers is related to transportation. The journey of an imported cut flower begins when they are harvested, packed, and flown from their country of origin to the US. From there they are loaded onto refrigerated trucks for the next leg of their journey to a local distributor/wholesaler. Next up is the trip to the local florist, grocery store, or other retail outlet before making their way to your home. This journey represents a lot of handling and a lot of transportation. One study estimates that a single imported rose stem contributes 1.5 lbs of CO2 and greenhouse gases into the air. Multiply that simple 1.5 lbs by the 1.4 billion flowers imported for Valentine’s Day, and you get 95,254 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. To put those numbers in perspective, this is equivalent to:
- the greenhouse gas emissions from 236,363,270 miles driven by a passenger vehicle (about 20,000 vehicles driven 12,000 miles/yr); and
- CO2 emissions from burning 10,718,397 gallons of gasoline.
An even less appealing aspect of imported cut flowers, is the potential exposure to chemical pesticides and fungicides. When imported flowers arrive in the US, they undergo an inspection for any diseases or pests. This is to prevent an inadvertent release of dangerous pests or plant diseases. If the flowers do not pass inspection, they cannot be sold. To ensure the flowers pass this inspection, they may be dipped in fungicides and/or pesticides in their country of origin prior to shipping. In addition, the exporting countries may have less stringent regulations regarding chemical usage than the US. This means that the residue concentrations may be higher on those flowers. One UK study found 111 active pesticide and fungicide residues on gloves worn by florists after arranging flowers for just 2 hours. Yuck!
What Can You Do?
Enjoy locally grown fresh flowers whenever you can and know that they have a low environmental impact and help the local ecosystem.