Biodegradability: A Misconception about Fresh Botanicals

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Increased demand for products with reduced environmental impact has resulted in growing confusion about what is “green” and what offers “real environmental value”. Most of the confusion and misconception centers on biodegradability and landfills. It seems an obvious conclusion that if an object is natural, such as a fresh cut floral arrangement, then it is biodegradable. This is accurate only if it is composted and allowed to react with air, water, and microorganisms that break it into components that are again made available to the biosphere, much in the same way a fallen tree in a forest decomposes and completes its life cycle.

Because modern landfills are so extremely compacted, natural, or organic, “trash” biodegrades anaerobically (without oxygen), if it breaks down at all. In a frequently cited study from the University of Arizona, researchers uncovered 25 year old hot dogs, corncobs and grapes from a landfill. When organic “trash” does break down anaerobically, one of the by-products is methane. In 2009, landfills were responsible for 17% of the methane emissions in the U.S. Methane is 21 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.* Many municipalities now collect yard waste separately for community composts to prevent the formation of methane, as well as to preserve critical landfill space needed for other types of municipal waste.

It requires a minimum of 364 weekly deliveries of perishable fresh cut flowers during the 7 year-plus lifespan of a single shipment of OfficeScapesDirect silk botanicals. The amount of methane emitted and landfill space consumed by discarded fresh cut flowers and plants over the 7 years is disconcerting to say the least. Therefore, if fresh botanicals are not properly degraded by composting, they have greater undesirable effects in landfills than silk flowers and plants, due to their production of harmful methane and their use of landfill space. Eventually, silk botanicals will take up landfill space, just as old clothing or furniture does, but they are biostable, or inert, and will not produce methane.

The 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) of Silk Botanicals

A single shipment of silk botanicals compared to 364 shipments over 7 years of fresh botanicals represents a considerable reduction in packaging materials and resources as well as its 99% reduction of CO2 emissions (See our Carbon Footprint White Paper). Further, silk flowers and plants may be used, and reused, for many years by rotating them to different locations and for seasonal use. Dated designs may be donated to community organizations much the same way as clothing and furnishings are donated - they are still a wonderful way to brighten up a room and their flowers and foliages may be reused for creative activities. Recycling fresh cut flowers and plant waste by composting or keeping it separate for municipal yard waste collection is not always a convenient or available option, especially for businesses. And while a recycling program is not available for artificial plants and flowers, the recycling of the packaging from a single silk shipment is far more efficient, with much smaller impact, than that from 364 fresh cut flower shipments. Ideally, the practice of reduction and reuse is much more environmentally desirable than recycling.

Bottom Line: Silk Botanicals are the Greenest Choice

Fresh cut flowers and live plants are no longer “green” in the office and business environment. The facts prove silk botanicals provide the “greenest” strategy for indoor use over fresh botanicals. They produce a drastically smaller carbon footprint, have the longest service life, are biostable and use less space in landfills.

* U.S EPA “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990 – 2009”