Growing up on the family farm, I have always tried to be a good steward of the earth. My dad said he took his livelihood from the soil and we needed to be respectful of it, take care of our environmental resources, and give back to the earth.
As a florist, I have always worked to minimize waste and to recycle and repurpose as much as possible. I love to visit thrift shops where I am like a kid in a candy store searching for hidden treasures that can be reused. Glassware can be sterilized and reused many times. I even have some clients who leave boxes of vases at the door of my studio for recycling.
One thing that can’t be reused is florist foam. It was invented by the Smithers-Oasis Company in the 1950s and has many benefits. It holds quite a bit of water to keep flower stems submerged and drinking, it is pH balanced, it supports large stems in tall arrangements, and just creates a stable base for designing flowers. But it can only be used one time and then is thrown in the garbage. It doesn’t break down in landfills. It is a plastic material that is made from phenol reacting to formaldehyde, then air is added to turn it into foam. It is treated with detergents to give it its unique ability to soak up water. It is harmful to breathe the dust created when you cut it.
It is not biodegradable. It can take hundreds of years to break down, if at all.
It ends up in the water stream when it goes down the drain, and although it is not considered toxic because of the relatively small amount of formaldehyde present, organisms eat it, and that can’t be healthy.
Oasis developed a new formula that claims to have enhanced biodegradability. It is supposed to completely break down in a biologically active landfill within 567 days—that’s almost 19 months. The only trouble is landfills are “anaerobic”—inactive environments. They store garbage, not decompose it.
While I cannot claim to be 100% free of florist foam, I have found a way to drastically reduce my consumption of it. Thanks to our industry’s own Holly Chapple, who created the reusable plastic egg and pillow armatures for Syndicate Sales, most arrangements can be adapted to this new design method. It has revolutionized the way I design, and gives a more natural growth-habit look and feel to my work. I liken it to the way flowers grow naturally. It saves time and allows you to use less material—you don’t have to “cover mechanics” with greens or moss, and overall it just makes better sense to take care of our earth.