Last June, the Madrid poet Tania López wrote on Twitter feel “especially hurt by the flowers that are dying in supermarkets.” A specific sadness that accompanied photos of petals cracked at the edges, still life that withered next to the line of boxes in some large store. In recent years, plants have become a decorative trend and obsession. They have gained in ubiquity, from the content we consume on Instagram (the hashtag plant loverlover of plants, accumulates more than seven million publications) to an unusual diversity of points of sale such as supermarkets, bazaars, furniture and decoration stores, and even trading platforms on-line of second-hand objects. But despite the greenness of the trend, there are many reasons to suspect that it is not an example of sustainability, and that behind the plants that we see on these surfaces there are no environmentally responsible supply chains.
The origin of the problem
Elena Páez is the founder of Planthae, a store and vegetable cabinet, located on Calle Santa Ana in Madrid, where plant care courses are also taught. Páez finds in the new pattern of consumption the main problem of the impact of this decorative trend on the planet. “We are in a time when the consumer trend is to buy many indoor plants, fill your spaces as we fill the closet, and throw them away. It is more important to have a lot and upload it to networks than to take care of them and prevent them from dying, ”she questions, pointing out that the growing demand prioritizes low prices over product quality guarantees. “If we are buying tomatoes cherry to a euro, something has happened behind; that is, the natural production cycle has been modified in a non-sustainable or ecological way.”
Páez introduces the various environmental impact problems that this rate of production entails, which finds shelter in the absence of an organic farming certificate for nurseries of decorative or indoor plants (which does exist, for example, for vegetables for human consumption). ). Some of these problems are, for example, the sale of plants without a phytosanitary passport in channels without certification, such as second-hand platforms; or mass cultivation to save costs, which occurs with artificial light cameras on the plants 24 hours a day and with the use of unnatural chemicals, rooting hormones and fertilizers to make them grow as quickly as possible. “The consumer receives a plant that looks fine on the outside, but its roots are hanged, that is, twisted on themselves, which could cause its death if there are too many roots in the small pots in which they are sold, on the contrary than in an organic growth of the plant species”, points out the expert in plant care.
The concern about the way in which the plants that arrive at home are cultivated is not new. In 2021, the climate justice collective Intersectional Environmentalist published on his Instagram profile an informative post about the climate impact of the successful interior design trend, and placed the use and abuse of peat as one of the main problems. Peat is a mineral material formed by decomposing plant remains that is extracted from peat bogs, sediment swamps of glacial origin from which one third of the planet’s soil carbon is obtained. As explained in the post Intersectional Environmentalist, is also used as a fertilizer because it is cheap and alternatives are not widely available commercially, making plants grown in peat the only option for retailers. In addition, the extraction of peat causes the emission of greenhouse gases that aggravate the problem.
For Elena Páez, a geologist by training, peat is not even the most nutritious option. Other alternatives, although not as cheap, are better as fertilizer, and she mentions coconut fiber, composted soils, perlite or wood fibers. “It doesn’t make sense to destroy our natural reserves and ecosystems to fertilize a small houseplant,” she reasons. “But peat is in fashion and a lot green blogger claims it as ‘caviar’ for plants”.
What is the capacity of action of the consumer?
The challenges of the climate crisis demand critical and conscious consumption, an effort that is often rewarded by the quality of the product purchased. The first symptomatic point to look at when buying a plant is the price, the lower it is, the cheaper we can assume that its growing conditions have been and, therefore, less responsible in environmental terms and fair with nurserymen . Another trick was the one that Páez advanced: pay close attention to the fact that the roots are not hanged inside the pot.
But, without a doubt, the definitive gesture to make our consumption of plants a truly sustainable one is to learn to take care of those that are already at home, through the search for information, common beginner mistakes can be avoided. Learning to cut or seed is an alternative to get out of this cycle of production and consumption. “We throw plants away every day because we don’t have the patience or the knowledge to seed, cut or propagate”, explains the botanist, launching ideas full of new possibilities with which to make the corners of the house flourish.