Mattress foam? Comfy.
Cappuccino foam? Yes please!
Floral Foam? No thanks.
If you've ever received flowers, then you're familiar with these big green bricks, also known as floral foam. Usually you see them looking like green swiss cheese, popped full of holes where the stems of your arrangement once sat. I want to share a little ethical consumerism (every millennials favorite buzzword) with you and why I'm ready to cut ties with this product.
Let's start with the "sciency" part. Floral foam is a phenol-formaldehyde foam treated with detergents which give it a unique ability to soak up water. After the manufacturing process, there is only <.1% of toxic chemicals remaining in the bricks. Floral foam enables designers to provide flowers a continuous water supply, drawing water into their stems while also holding them in place. This gives us the ability to make gravity-defying arrangements and displays days in advance, saving time and money.
Sounds great right?
When I started my flower education I was taught the standard practice of flower arranging in the United States which is: use any and every material, chemical, and technique to get the most life out of each cut flower. At $4 or more a stem you'll do whatever it takes to make them last. Floral foam is literally the building block of 95% of American florists. It is used in nearly every arrangement and boxes of it are shipped in on a weekly basis.
Whether cutting a dry piece of foam and inhaling the subsequent dust or throwing a huge water-logged piece into the trash, it doesn't give you the warm fuzzies. Working with flowers gives you a sense of holding mother nature in your hand, but holding a brick of foam does not. Over time, I discovered the "No Floral Foam" movement (@nofloralfoam). This movement was spearheaded by Shane Connelly, a british designer best known as the for the 2011 Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Connelly states:
"It is very hard indeed to find any scientific research to either allay or confirm our suspicions about floral foam, what we do know is that it is not biodegradable - and that it contains known carcinogens."
The reality is that over a florists lifetime, prolonged exposure to to floral foam puts us at the highest risk for respiratory issues, skin problems, and even cancer. The companies which manufacture these products suggest wearing goggles, using masks, and gloves when handling the foam wet or dry. When you go visit your neighborhood florist have you ever seen them wearing goggles and a mask? Not exactly the image you want when buying your Nana a bouquet of daisies.
The other side of this is the environmental impact. Because floral foam doesn't decompose, we are putting thousands of pounds of this stuff into our landfills every year. Many floral designers even crumble the pieces up and send them down the drain. Not such a pretty picture.
It's difficult for me to continue using this product given this information, which is why I've made a conscious decision to try to phase it out. There are so many natural and recyclable material alternatives out there like curly willow, moss, hay, chicken wire, branches, pebbles, sand, and grave. We just have to be more creative.
It's all about baby steps...just like taking your reusable bag to the grocery store is becoming the new norm, consider requesting no floral foam in your next flower arrangement. It will still be beautiful and long lasting! Better yet, choose an eco-friendly florist who is adopting other practices such as using recyclable vessels and buying local or American-grown flowers which are sustainable and grown under stricter chemical regulation.
Try your hand at your own eco-friendly design by checking out my recent blog post. Learn to make a round arrangement using a small piece of hidden chicken wire in your container.