When Ali Troup first started in the florist industry 24 years ago, she didn’t stop to consider sustainability. These days she doesn’t do anything without first thinking of the consequences on the environment.
Her choice of flowers, where she buys, how she wraps, stores and transports them now are all carefully considered.
She believes the industry is slowly but gradually changing in awareness, and florists who work sustainably are growing in numbers. However, many florists still lack the knowledge and motivation to change their practices, and so she believes it’s important to educate the industry as well as consumers. She is also particularly keen to educate the public on the danger of micro plastic that is hidden in florist products.
Standard practice in modern flower growing and floristry is to wrap flowers in layers of plastic, including plastic sleeves that protect blooms and their stems for transportation. Ali doesn’t use imported flowers, prefering to buy local. This is partly to reduce the emissions of travel miles but also because when imported flowers come through Australian customs they are sprayed and wrapped in huge amounts of plastic, paper, cotton wool, and cardboard. Despite attempts for florists to find out what flowers are sprayed with at their country of origin and at our borders, they are rarely able to find out what chemicals have been used. She also said that tonnes of flowers are thrown out when custom authorities believe that there is a biosecurity issue.
Recently, before Valentine’s Day this year, many roses were discarded by Australian customs. Consequently local markets had to cope with a huge demand, and because many growers had actually stopped growing roses (they weren’t able to compete with the much cheaper imports) they didn’t have enough stock for their Valentine’s Day customers. But Ali believes it’s a great time to be a Florist, and one of the positive signs the industry is becoming environmentally aware is that we’re now seeing flowers that haven’t been around for a long time grown locally. Flowers such as the Hydrangea, Zinnea, Scabiosa, Cosmos are added to Waratah, Banksias and wild flowers. Veggies are even being added to a flower mix.
At a traditional florist, flowers are regularly gift wrapped in heavily dyed papers, sheets of wrapping that include nano plastics, and cellophane. Floral foam (which is made of a micro plastic, with tiny, tiny particles of micro plastic dust) is also regularly used in floral arrangements for gifts, funerals, events and weddings. When cutting floral foam when it’s dry it releases dust that is made of tiny particles of plastic, and florists inhale this dust. And then when the flowers have died the foam inevitably ends up in landfill. Some people put the foam chunks into their compost bin, mistakenly thinking they are biodegradable, but compostable they are not. Even the most ribbon that is tied around bouquets and boxed arrangements include micro plastics. Ali says that she hopes to see the day when floral foam is forced off the market by a Government ban.
Instead of using floral foam, Ali has developed a range of practices to create her displays. These include using soaked moss, vessels that hold water, chicken wire, and various frames made from branches and steel. When creating large floral installation pieces, she uses all compostable and reusable items and avoids things such as cable ties. After bumping out a job, she pulls her work apart, separating the flowers and foliage which she composts from the moss, chicken wire and frames which she stores to reuse in other work.
Ali says that her most popular product is her bouquet, and she makes them with intention that all of the bouquet and its wrapping can be composted afterwards. She wraps her floral creations in natural brown kraft paper and ties them off with twine. She explains that while twine can look ordinary she overcomes this by adding foliages, gum nuts and other compostable floral items, turning it into a feature and creating special effects.
To manage wastage, Ali buys little and often to reduce the risk of having to throw out unused flowers. She encourages her clients to return the packaging used in events, as well as reusing, boxes, jars, paper and cups. When doing deliveries she places flowers in reclaimed buckets sourced from local hospitality providers if people aren’t at home to take the delivery. Running a low waste business is important to Ali, and so she separates all of her waste. She composts her green waste, recycles cardboard boxes, gives elastic bands back to growers for further use, and keeps a tiny bin for her general waste.
Recently she moved her business to another location in The Mill, behind the Castlemaine Bazaar, which is much better insulated than her original premises, and she will grow deciduous trees to provide shade for her West facing studio. An energy efficient split system is installed, which she will use only when necessary for providing a cool place for her flowers. Of course, being a part of The Mill, her electricity bills are low because her power is supplied by the many solar panels on the Mill’s roofs.
Ali has plans to reduce her business’ environmental footprint even further. Given that she covers quite a few carbon miles with deliveries to and from events, converting her van into an electric is high on her list. She tries to keep her activities within Central Victoria but when seasonal growing is quiet she does have to travel further.
Ali hopes that a lot of the new growers will persist in their efforts to go greener faster. So many are popping up she looks forward to developing sustainable relationships with those who have the same approach that she does.