Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Changing the World, One Flower Arrangement at a Time

Jan 27, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein

Floral foam was a great idea when it was invented in 1954. It keeps cut flower arrangements moist for days while providing structural support to allow designers to create impressive displays. But 1954 was a long time ago. Today's senior citizens were children. Mr. McGuire had yet to tell Benjamin that the future was in "plastics." We as a society were blissfully ignorant of the health hazards inherent in the many novel materials that American ingenuity had brought into our daily lives.

In an earlier post I wrote about formaldehyde lurking in particle board. Floral foam is made from phenol formaldehyde resin, a polymer (plastic) made by reacting phenol with formaldehyde. Phenol is an acidic compound originally extracted from coal tar but now produced from petroleum.  Standard floral foam takes over 100 years to biodegrade in a landfill.

A Seattle startup is challenging the status quo. Mickey Blake, founder of Floral Soil Solutions, invented a nontoxic, biodegradable, alternative to floral foam that is not made from fossil fuels. Floral Soil is made from coconut husks combined with naturally occurring polymers. The exact patent-pending process is a closely guarded secret, but Blake says the product is safe enough to eat. Still, it looks like dirt and probably tastes worse than Play-dough, another nontoxic product.

Water is the only solvent used in making Floral Soil, and it is recycled during processing. Blake shared an interesting tidbit in a recent webinar: the manufacturing process generates heat, therefore warming the building and cutting down on gas and electric bills. This won't be quite such an advantage in the summer months, but it's interesting.

Smithers-Oasis, the company that invented floral foam, is making its own efforts to be more environmentally friendly. It makes a foam with "enhanced biogradeability." This confusing term means that the product degrades slower than a biodegradable product, which fully degrades within one year. Smithers' new foam biodegrades 37% in 110 days in a biologically active landfill. It is not compostable but can be "safely" discarded in a landfill after use.

Floral Foam, on the other hand, is meant to be reused for multiple floral arrangements and eventually composted. Its ingredients improve the quality of soil when added to compost.

Blake reports that customers from 16 countries have expressed interest in Floral Foam, so the product has real potential. Blake currently distributes it via relationships with florists, and it will be available in Whole Foods Markets in February. Whole Foods actually approached Blake. The chain had discontinued selling floral foam due to environmental concerns and jumped on the opportunity to offer the new product. Now Blake is tackling the challenge of scaling production.

In the grand scheme of things, replacing floral foam with a nontoxic, compostable alternative is not a big deal. But I applaud Blake for coming up with an innovative product that addresses even this minuscule segment of the disposable economy.