Sustainable Floral Design
Michele Klink, Wilton Garden Club

What it means to be an eco-friendly floral designer :
A large contributor to waste in the floral design industry is the use of floral foam, sometimes called Oasis (a brand name, like Kleenex).  Most florists rely heavily on this product, cutting bricks of the green, spongy foam to fit into containers such as vases, urns, and compotes to provide a foundation to build the arrangement and a water source for the arrangement.  The foam is soaked in water before flowers are added to provide a water source for the flowers. Florists insert the foliage and flower stems in the foam to keep the stems in place. This makes both design and transport easier, because the stems stay put.

But what the heck IS floral foam?  Great question, and one without an easy-to-find answer.  It first was patented in various forms in the 1940s and the 1950s and was being proposed to replace methods such as using sphagnum moss, cedar, or shredded newspaper as a foundation for flowers. In technical terms, it’s an open cell phenol-formaldehyde foam.  Floral foam is essentially plastic. It’s a petroleum-derived product, meaning it comes from a non-renewable resource. And it contains formaldehyde and carbon black. But beyond the chemical composition of floral foam, floral foam is a single-use item, meaning it ends up in the garbage after it’s used just once.

What about recent claims about biodegradable floral foam?
Oasis brand is touting a new formula with “Enhanced Biodegradability.”  It states that this means that it has been shown “to biodegrade 100 percent within 567 days in biologically active landfill conditions.”  The problem is that landfills are not designed to be biologically active.  A biologically active landfill would be a stinky, seeping one so landfills are designed to be anaerobic, inactive environments.  Landfills are designed to store garbage, not to decompose it.

Some alternatives to floral foam:

  • Chicken Wire
  • Branches
  • Pin Frogs
  • Tape Grid