Instagram is awash with, well, dried flower greenwashing. Cut flowers are out, and dried flowers are in; but it’s not as if one industry has replaced another.
Instead, the dried flower trend — devoid and blood-drained of its cultural significance — has created another stressor on mother nature. All for a new cheap, tacky statement to make on Instagram or TikTok about how bougie your home is. (Or rather, how planet-killing your home is?)
Commercial and industry scale dried flower production is laden with ecological threats and oddly strong chemical use — but it’s perfectly disguised by the continuing misuse of the word ‘sustainable’.
In case you missed that: most likely no, those dried flowers you bought from the store or online aren’t better for the environment than fresh cut flowers.
Both are as bad as each other — and dried flowers may even be worse. With most dried flowers being:
- heat-treated (so, that’s some extra CO2 production we don’t need )
- bleached and chemically hardened
- coated with water-soluble plastic (which I shouldn't have to tell you is a nightmare for the environment and the ocean), or,
- treated with anti-mould chemicals
…the latest fad in home décor is another concoction that humans appear to have come up with that is also eating mother nature alive.
It might even be the case that your dried flowers have literally undergone all four earth-killing procedures to make them: heat treatment, bleaching, anti-mould chemical treatment and water soluble plastic coating.
Another aspect of the dried flower trend is the contribution that commercial and industrial flower growth (and natural flower theft) contributes to freshwater loss, deforestation and natural habitat destruction — due to the forced change in the use of land from natural habitat and ecosystem, to industrial horticulture.
Dried flowers — tell the truth!
The source of your dried flowers is something that your local florist or cutesy seller from Etsy is going to tell you the truth about if they’ve actually they’ve just been buying these trendy dried flowers wholesale. The vast majority will have probably sourced from one of the world’s most chemically polluting countries on the planet.
And consider this even more of an ecological problem if your seller’s range of dried flower product had to be flown into the country.
When buying dried flowers, it’s extremely important to a) try not to or b) know exactly where they’ve come from.
“…they are marketing it as sustainable or eco-friendly because it’s dried and can be used again and again.
However whether they know the background on the colouring process or not, it is far from environmentally friendly and effectively means these businesses are green-washing to jump on the sustainability bandwagon.” — Briar Rose Flowers
Chemical hardeners that dried flowers are treated with
Here’s a shortlist. It’s shortened because there are way more chemicals than this when it comes to mass-produced dried flowers:
Hypochlorites (NaOCl, Ca(OCl)2)
Hypochlorite bleaching is usually done cold to minimise cellulose fibre damage. Acid is added to reduce the pH of the batch to make allowance for the fall in pH.
Hydrosulphites (NaS2O4, ZnS2O4)
Hydrosulphite has maximum bleaching power at pH 10. It is stable in alkaline solution and can be made in situ by alkaline treatment into a type sulphur dioxide gas — the same emissions that you get from burning coal or oil. Yup.
Sodium chlorite (NaCl02)
Sodium chlorite is expensive but is the most efficient bleach for lightening lignin (lignin is natural plant tissue) without damaging fibre. Chlorite bleaching has to be done between the temperatures of 50 and 100°C, which means more heat for the planet in addition to the waste products produced by this process.
Peroxide (H2O2, NaH2O2)
Hydrogen peroxide is available commercially as a 50% solution. It will remove about half the lignin before cellulose fibres are damaged, so this process has to be carefully monitored.
Used in the fashion industry and increasingly as a major preservative to prevent odours. Made from tin and used as a microbial agent, this dried flower chemical can affect the human immune and reproduction system. As a result, EU regulations for example, stipulate that products cannot contain more than 0.1%.
Plastics that dried flowers are treated with
- Aldehydes (various)
- Polyvinyl Alcohol
- Polyvinyl Chloride
- Polyvinyl Acetate (yes, like the glue)
- 2-(chloromethyl)oxirane;4-[2-(4-hydroxyphenyl)propan-2-yl]phenol;prop-2-enoic acid (that old favourite, Expoxy!)
- Brominated flame retardant
- Cyanoacrylate polymers
Aside from all of the inhalation side effects and possible skin allergies — the toxic waste run-off of these chemicals produced in factories and warehouses is a huge portion of the damage that is hugely damaging to the freshwater supply and marine ecosystems around the world. There are ‘earthier’ glues such as starch glues and non-solvents — but it is the production process of all of these glues which is most damaging.
In addition to the greenwashing when it comes to PVA and PVC:
“The substances are often dissolved in a solvent. As the solvent evaporates during the drying process… it may include greenhouse gases, ozone depleting substances, chemicals involved in the creation of smog and other gases hazardous to human health.” — Green Living Tips
There’s lots of horrifying research out there if you want to look.
Synthetic colourants and harsh chemical compounds that dried flowers may treated with
- Uvitex BHV,
- Bluton BBV,
- Tuboblanc col,
- Dyapol XLF,
The full list is so very long, and I’m so upset that I’ve lost the will to even look these up. I can’t even pronounce the names of these substances correctly.
“ There are images of bright dried flowers all over Instagram, Etsy and glossy magazines but flowers dyed naturally do not retain the same vivid colours as their fresh versions, and that is part of their appeal.”
If this has inspired you to grow your own plants, wait for them to wilt and then air dry them yourself — like a normal, non-planet destructive, actually sustainable human in days gone by — then head over to this guide on natural dyes that you can use on your fibres and of course, on dried flowers. It makes for much happier reading than this article, and you can escape the drudgery of understanding that every bougie new trend normally has a horrible, earthly price on it.
Human cost of dried flowers
The overwhelming human cost — which goes unaccounted for as usual — for the lowest paid people in our global society are also the ones suffering the biggest health issues and deaths as a result of the chemicals applied to dried flowers:
“While histories of the toxicity of dyes and their effect on fashion exist, the main focus is often on the consumer rather than the worker.
“Much still remains to be explored regarding the ways in which various socio-economic categories were endangered by toxic substances such as colours in the workplace and beyond.” — Environmental History Now
Questions to ask your florist about their dried flowers
How can you tell if your dried flowers are truly sustainable and from a legitimately managed, eco-friendly source? Ask the questions.
Here is a list of questions to ask your florist about where their dried flowers are coming from:
- Where are these dried flowers from?
- But where are they really from?
- Do you know how your supplier sources these dried flowers?
- Have these been made chemical free?
- Are they air dried?
- Are they heat-free?
- What dyes have been used to dye these flowers?
- Can you guarantee that they are bleach free?
- Can you guarantee that they are aldehyde free? (Unless they are truly home grown, organic and naturally dyed — they cannot guarantee this at all)
And if they can’t tell you or just blame the wholesaler? Well bouquet lover — we have a problem.
My florist doesn't know where her/his dried flowers are from
Wholesalers too — especially for items stocked in the UK and European Union — have a responsibility to list any and all chemicals that dried flowers are for basic safety reasons.
For example — imagine you start spraying some bog standard room scent or perfume onto your bleach-treated flowers.
Other than the fact that glycerine, a common ingredient in room scents. explodes with bleach on contact… there’s a good chance that the isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol (that’s denat alcohol — made purposefully toxic for consumption, and it’s in most of your store-bought cosmetics) in your perfume is causing some of those chemicals to leach from the dried flowers and into the air that your breathing at home. That’s not healthy for you, your babies, your pets; nor even any live plants that you have at home.
The worst part is that you won’t be able smell or detect the chemicals being leached, which is technically what makes them more dangerous.
In some cultures, dried flowers are bad luck
Don’t forget: dead and dried flowers in some parts of the world are actually terribly bad luck. Yes, really.
In considering the theology of Chi and life force energy for those that practice Feng Shui (as one cultural example out of a number of indigenous examples), dried flowers are believed to attract “death vibes” and bad fortune into the home of the person who has them.
Dry your own sustainably grown, wilted flowers
DIY dried and dyed flowers does mean waiting and working seasonally (hmmm, much wow, it’s almost as if nature intended for us all to work like this to achieve ecological balance and fertility recovery!) — but it also means gaining a beautiful, traditional skill and learning how to be more self-sufficient and creative than clicking on some nameless listing from a monopoly storefront.
There are loads of free guides online as to how to dry flowers yourself .
At least then, you’re the one choosing exactly how much death you’re causing to the planet in pursuit of the perfect home décor snap for your Insta…