Are Plastic Flowers “Green”?

Photo from flickr / Adam Polselli

Some readers have sent us a story they heard on the radio, in which economist Stephen Dubner says that environmentalists shouldn’t send real flowers on Mother’s Day; they should send plastic flowers instead. Never mind his intent — he may just be poking fun at the green crowd, but we can take it — he does raise an interesting point. What is the environmental cost of sending flowers halfway across the world?

It turns out, the impact can be big. First, carbon emissions associated with shipping a product halfway across the world, refrigerated, are high. As Dubner noted in the interview above, about 80% of cut flowers sold here are imported from faraway tropical places. But another factor is pesticides and other chemicals. Legally, flowers have to be pest-free when they arrive at the US border, meaning that producers are inclined to use lots and lots of chemicals. That’s bad for local workers, surrounding habitat, and animals that migrate between the places. Never mind the drinking water where these chemicals run off!

We’d like to use this opportunity to encourage you to think different. Could it be that cut flowers, which often die after 10 or 15 days, aren’t the best gift to represent your longstanding, loving relationship with your mother? Is there another, greener gift you can give — something that won’t die so soon? Make a lovely card, bake a cake, plan a beautiful outing together? Or something your mother might buy anyway, like eco-friendly coffee or chocolate?

If you don’t dare break from flowery tradition, we don’t blame you! For a reduced carbon footprint, plus a connection to your local green place, look for local flowers. Even better, get a potted plant that’s just in bloom — it’ll last for years to come. To avoid chemical-heavy flowers, order from an organic retailer like Organic Bouquet, or look for the Veriflora, Fair Trade, or Rainforest Alliance logos.

Are you getting flowers? Let us know how your Mom would feel about alternative gifts!

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