How floral foam harms the planet – and how to replace it

Mackenzie Nichols is a freelance writer specializing in gardening and entertainment news. She specializes in writing about new plants, gardening trends, gardening tips and tricks, entertainment trends, Q&A with leaders in the entertainment and gardening industry, and trends in today’s society. She has over 5 years of experience writing articles for major publications.
You’ve probably seen these green squares, known as flower foam or oases, in flower arrangements before, and you may even have used them yourself to keep flowers in place. Although flower foam has been around for decades, recent scientific studies have shown that this product can be harmful to the environment. In particular, it breaks down into microplastics, which can contaminate water sources and harm aquatic life. In addition, foamy dust can cause breathing problems for people. For these reasons, major flower events such as the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show and the Slow Flower Summit have moved away from flower foam. Instead, florists are increasingly turning to floral foam alternatives for their creations. Here’s why you should do it too, and what you can use instead of flower arrangements.
Floral foam is a lightweight, absorbent material that can be placed on the bottom of vases and other vessels to create a base for floral designs. Rita Feldman, founder of Australia’s Sustainable Flower Network, said: “For a long time, florists and consumers considered this green brittle foam to be a natural product.” .
Green foam products were not originally invented for flower arrangements, but Vernon Smithers of Smithers-Oasis patented them for this use in the 1950s. Feldmann says that Oasis Floral Foam quickly became popular with professional florists because it is “very cheap and very easy to use. You just cut it open, soak it in water, and stick the stem into it.” in containers, these containers will be difficult to handle without a solid base for the flowers. “His invention made flower arrangements very accessible to inexperienced arrangers who couldn’t get stems to stay where they wanted,” she adds.
Although flower foam is made from known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, only trace amounts of these toxic chemicals remain in the finished product. The biggest problem with floral foam is what happens when you throw it away. Foam is not recyclable, and while technically biodegradable, it actually breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics that can remain in the environment for hundreds of years. Scientists are increasingly concerned about the health risks to humans and other organisms posed by microplastics in air and water.
For example, a study by RMIT University published in 2019 in Science of the Total Environment found for the first time that microplastics in flower foam affect aquatic life. The researchers found that these microplastics are physically and chemically harmful to a range of freshwater and marine species that ingest the particles.
Another recent study by scientists at the Hull York Medical School identified microplastics in human lungs for the first time. The results indicate that inhalation of microplastics is an important source of exposure. In addition to flower foam, airborne microplastics are also found in products such as bottles, packaging, clothing and cosmetics. However, it is unclear exactly how these microplastics affect humans and other animals.
Until further research promises to shed more light on the dangers of flower foam and other sources of microplastics, florists such as Tobey Nelson of Tobey Nelson Events + Design, LLC are concerned about inhaling the dust generated when using the product. While Oasis encourages florists to wear protective masks when handling products, many do not. “I just hope that in 10 or 15 years they don’t call it foamy lung syndrome or something like miners have black lung disease,” Nelson said.
Proper disposal of flower foam can go a long way in preventing air and water pollution from even more microplastics. Feldmann notes that in a survey of professional florists conducted by the Sustainable Floristry Network, 72 percent of those who use flower foam admitted to throwing it down the drain after the flowers wither, and 15 percent said they added it to their garden. and soil. In addition, “floral foam enters the natural environment in a variety of ways: buried with coffins, through water systems in vases, and mixed with flowers in green waste systems, gardens and composts,” Feldman said.
If you need to recycle flower foam, experts agree that it’s far better to throw it in a landfill than throw it down the drain or add it to compost or yard waste. Feldman advises pouring water containing flower foam pieces, “pour it into a dense fabric, such as an old pillowcase, to catch as many foam pieces as possible.”
Florists may prefer to use floral foam because of its familiarity and convenience, Nelson says. “Yes, it’s inconvenient to remember a reusable grocery bag in the car,” she says. “But we all need to move away from the convenience mentality and have a more sustainable future in which we work a little harder and reduce our impact on the planet.” Nelson added that many florists may not realize that better options exist.
Oasis itself now offers a fully compostable product called TerraBrick. The new product is “made from plant-based, renewable, natural coconut fibers and a compostable binder.” Like Oasis Floral Foam, TerraBricks absorbs water to keep flowers moist while maintaining flower stem alignment. The coconut fiber products can then be safely composted and used in the garden. Another new variation is the Oshun Pouch, created in 2020 by New Age Floral CEO Kirsten VanDyck. The bag is filled with a compostable material that swells in water and can withstand even the largest coffin spray, VanDyck said.
There are many other ways to support floral arrangements, including flower frogs, wire fencing, and decorative stones or beads in vases. Or you can get creative with what you have on hand, as VanDyck proved when she designed her first sustainable design for the Garden Club. “Instead of floral foam, I cut a watermelon in half and planted a couple of birds of paradise in it.” Watermelon obviously won’t last as long as floral foam, but that’s the point. VanDyck says it’s great for a design that should only last a day.
With more and more alternatives available and awareness of the negative side effects of flower foam, it’s clear that jumping on the #nofloralfoam bandwagon is a no-brainer. Perhaps that’s why, as the flower industry works to improve its overall sustainability, T.J. McGrath of TJ McGrath Design believes that “eliminating floral foam is a top priority.”

Post time: Feb-03-2023