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The flower industry has a thorny environmental problem — and plastic is just part of it

Girl holds flowers.

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This week:

  • The flower industry has a thorny environmental problem — and plastic is just part of it
  • Harnessing the heat of server farms
  • Researchers are diving deep in the Arctic looking for kelp forests

The flower industry has a thorny environmental problem — and plastic is just part of it

(Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past few weeks, as a tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth, mourners laid hundreds of thousands of bouquets at royal residences and parks across the U.K.

As moving as some found it to see Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Sandringham and Windsor Castle awash in a sea of floral tributes, others saw something else: plastic. 

In central London’s Green Park last Monday — one of many locations where people left flowers — workers bundled bags of discarded plastic wrappers and cellophane from bouquets left in honour of the Queen. In images posted in the Daily Mail, volunteers were seen cutting wrappers from bouquets, and a large flat-bed truck was stuffed with dozens of bags of the plastic waste. 

Becky Feasby, a sustainable florist and owner of Prairie Girl Flowers in Calgary, said she had two thoughts when she saw the royal tributes. First, that the bulk of those flowers was likely imported. Second, she was struck by the “sheer volume of plastic wrapping.” 

“The amount of single-use plastic waste is truly staggering,” said Feasby, who is also working on her master’s degree in sustainability at Harvard University.

When thinking about harmful environmental practices, it might not seem obvious to consider the flower industry — which, after all, celebrates beautiful blooms grown of this earth.

“We think of them as gestures of kindness or empathy or affection,” Feasby said. “But the reality of the global flower industry is that the bulk of our flowers are grown in the Global South and transported worldwide in refrigerated cargo jets and trucks, wrapped in plastic and arranged in toxic floral foam.”

Depending on where the flowers come from, there’s industrial farming and the effects of pesticides, fertilizers or water-hungry greenhouses to consider, said Kai Chan, a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and…

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