Florist Waste Risk

oldwriter(z8 Central TX)May 10, 2005

Someone on another forum suggested florists as a good source of greens for composting, so today I stopped by two florists who said they could supply me with plenty. But . . .

The second florist questioned the safety of using florist waste. He said their plants come from everywhere: Colombia, Ecuador, etc., and in those countries they use pesticides that were banned fifteen years ago in the USA, pesticides that are residual and will not be removed in the composting process. This includes some heavy metals. These would remain in the ground for an indefinite time.

Does anyone KNOW what actual risks/dangers there might be? I am into big-time--at least for non-commercial--composting. This would be only one of my many greens.

On the composting forum I've already been told to stay away from it, but someone suggested that this forum might have experts who could give a definitive answer.

I've already abandoned the idea, unless someone can authoritatively tell me there is no danger to soil, plants, or whatever.

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GrassIsEvil(z6 TN)

Wait a minute. These flowers are so filled with banned pesticides that they can't be safely composted, yet this florist is selling them to unsuspecting customers who will wear them as corsages, give them to the mothers of newborn infants, and arrange them on their dinner tables? Was he/she wearing protective gloves when handling these flowers?

I would think your first step should be contacting the State Department of Agriculture.

Ray

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 11:33PM
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anniew(4-5/PA)

Since the flowers aren't food products, the residuals are probably not monitored in THIS country. And yes, other countries have even less laws (if any) regarding pesticides. I don't buy any produce grown outside this country for that reason.
Ann

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 8:25AM
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flowers4u(z6 OR)

I know in many publications I've read over the past few years, there are horror stories of nursery/greenhouse workers in South America with many types of health issues...and yes they are allowed to use many, many chemicals we can't use (even on fruits - i.e. grapes, pears, apples). I would not personnally use leftovers from florists and no longer purchase foreign fruit unless its certified organic -- which is also debatable!
Wendy

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 1:05PM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

I've been there - sort of. I used manure from some big local horse barn on my beds, then lost somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of my plants, including most of my perennials, to the herbicide (clopyralid, to be exact) that had been used to kill unwanted weeds on the hay fields the horses were fed hay from. Certified weed-free hay often has herbicides on it, and is quite popular with horse owners around here. The clopyralid doesn't appear to harm the horse or cow, doesn't get broken down at all by the animal, and is still potent enough to kill plants after passing through the animal. I no longer use manure whose original hay source I don't know, if I can't talk to the owner of the hay field and find out what he put on it.

A local compost company went through a similar experience. Lots of people who used that compost lost their plants, for the same reason, to the same poison. In this area, golf courses can use clopyralid, then sell their grass clippings to compost companies, legally. Clopyralid is not usually sold by name, but is an ingredient in at least 14 commercial herbicides, the last time I heard about it.

I'd be concerned that any field-grown crops from other countries might have herbicide used to kill weeds on them, that could survive composting and then kill your plants. I don't know whether clopyralid, or any other selective herbicide, leaves enough residual on the leaves or flowers to be a danger to human beings who are just handling them, not eating them, but I sure wouldn't compost florist waste for fear of poisoning my own plants. Greenhouse-grown crops are less likely to be carrying herbicide, but how do you know whether the florist's flowers were grown in a field or in a greenhouse? This particular poison is legal in most of the USA. It's a risk I would NOT take. And I won't buy commercially-sold compost that was made in Washington or Idaho, unless it is certified organic. I don't know whether there are any other such herbicides, but once was enough for me. Now I'm careful to use only products that can't possibly contain ANY herbicide.

Jeanne

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 3:01PM
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GrassIsEvil(z6 TN)

My point was not that there wasn't residue on the flowers, but that the florist would warn someone against using the waste in compost yet sell the flowers themselves without warning customers. Isn't there something inconsistent in this?

Ray

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 6:55PM
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Noni Morrison

JEANNE, I THINK THAT COMMERCIAL COMPOST IN WASHINGTON STATE MUST BE TESTED FOR COPYRALIDS NOW. (SORRY ABOUT CAPS).

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 7:06PM
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oldwriter(z8 Central TX)

Ray, thanks for suggesting I contact my state USDA. I did and they told me that almost any chemical might be in florist waste, and that it certainly could be dangerous. The only way to know for sure would be expensive professional chemical analysis.

I'll stick with the old dependable greens.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 8:25PM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

I can understand the florist not warning flower-buying customers about the poisons. After all, the customer is unlikely to eat the flowers, and even if they compost an arrangement, that won't make up much volume in their compost pile. You'd be using a lot more of it, to nourish other plants, which might be susceptible to a poison. As long as the florist arrangements aren't eaten by people OR plants, they're pretty safe.

Jeanne

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 10:10PM
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Fundybayfarm(z5westernN.S.)

I'm sure they're much safer for the comsumer that only handles them once in a while, but maybe not so safe for the floral designers that handle them everyday. It's something I really hadn't thought about before, but a pretty good plug for the flowers we grow, with little or no chemicals at all on them.
Cheryl

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 7:58PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Hi. I'm a 52-yr-old botanist and plant ecologist and, for about the last eight years, a florist. I can guarantee that noone will be poisoned by a corsage or arrangement. And the possible problems of pesticide/herbicide treatments are negligible with most flowers, even third-world imports. Most such treatments are used before the flowers develop.

But there is enough risk of miscellaneous chemicals to make composting of aggregate floral waste just not worth the risk, particularly if you or your compost customers might possibly be using the compost around vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Here's why.

First, although the chemical pesticide/herbicide risks at the grower's end are not a problem for the end-user... the person who buys the pretty flowers... those chemicals may indeed have been taken up into the tissues of the flower or green.

Second, different flowers and greens are treated very differently, not only while they are growing in field or greenhouse but after they are cut, before shipping, and then again after they arrive at your florist. After being cut and moved out of the growing fields, most treatments are not sprayed on in any way. Instead, they are small chemical additions to the water that the flowers are taking up from their buckets.

A few species are just cut and shipped in water. They tend to be either very short-season locally-grown flowers, or they are air-overnighted and *very* expensive. Most species are shipped in a "dry", somewhat immature and semi-dormant state. When cut from the field, they are put in a weak solution that will help them survive this process. When they arrive at your florist, they are recut and put in a different weak solution to encourage them to rehydrate, mature and open, to become beautiful flowers. Some common florist flowers are treated in this way at the grower's end with a different solution to make them resistant to the early-aging effects of ethylene gas. Roses and a few other species get another treatment solution when they reach your florist, so that they fully hydrate... So they can be healthy at the tissue level, and open normally as roses should do. When flowers are arranged in a vase, they are in another weak solution that helps them last longer as healthy living flowers than they could do in just water.... Like the 'flower food' packet you get with wrapped flowers.

Most of these solutions you could probably drink a cup or two of without even a bellyache, let alone any other toxic effect. But between chemicals used in the field or greenhouse, those used by the growers before shipping, those used by the florist...

The fact is, we *can't* say they are safe for composting. Particularly since different flowers and greens are treated so differently, and the proportions of those things in the waste bin will vary wildly from week to week... You just never know what's in that there dumpster [wry grin].

All these 'treatments' are worth it, I think. They mean that we have a dramatically diverse range of flowers available. We are not limited to what flowers are in peak season within a hundred miles of us. And they mean that flowers from a decent florist will last nicely for a week or two, or longer, instead of the one or two days that often happen with grocery store flowers that were not handled properly.

But there are too many moving chemical parts here. Not a good compost source. And for 'edible flowers'? Ya need to grow them yourself. Don't go to a florist.....

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 9:14PM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

Linda, thank you so much for your post! It makes perfect sense. Sometimes we just need a real pro to explain stuff.

Jeanne

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 2:40PM
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lmariesteve(z5 OH)

Linda, Thanks for posting the florists side of this issue. I have been a floral designer for 32 years and have not had any health problems due to the handling of the flowers. Goodness knows, I have even drunk down small pieces of fern that fell in my coffee mug:)I DO, however, make sure that I scrub my hands before eating lunch just in case.....We tell people that ask us the same thing about the chemicals so we won't be held responsible if their compost effects their plants. A lot of us are gardeners too and we wouldn't do anything that was harmful to our customers just to make the "almighty" buck.We are artists and pretty darn nice people who love to make beautiful arrangements to make people happy! another Linda

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 8:43PM
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linda_schreiber(z5/6 MI)

Thanks, Jeanne.

And, Linda, yes ma'am! Your note was correct. It's certainly not a profession one gets into for the money [wry semi-hysterical cackles]. We love flowers and plants, and if all we have is a kitchen windowsill, the odds are it is **overburdened** with growing things.

[Fern bits in the coffee.... [grin] Yep.]

    Bookmark   May 18, 2005 at 11:03PM
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