One of the most biodiverse regions of the world is located in Northeast India and is one of the largest producers of flowers used in cultural heritage activities. This region has an agricultural system that functions alongside nature and uses very little fertilizer while producing some of the largest numbers of floral products worldwide3. Ethiopia is also considered one of the largest flower exporters in Africa with over 100 growers1. With production and consumption levels so high in both of these countries and increasing globally, the waste left behind is insurmountable. The city of Surat, Gujarat in India generates approximately 1.5-2 metrics tons of flower waste per day4.
Why is floral waste management economically and environmentally important?
Each year, Americans purchase approximately 250 million roses for Valentine’s Day2. Of these, 90% are imported from countries such as Columbia and Ethiopia2. These roses require significant resources for travel such as refrigeration and flying on hundreds of cargo planes2. In 2019, the National Retail Federation estimated that Americans would spend approximately $20.7 billion on gifts in preparation for Valentine’s Day2.
Every day for three weeks, 30 rose-carrying cargo plans travel from Colombia to Miami leading up to the holiday2. According to Brandon Graver of the International Council on Clean Transportation, the four billion flowers that arrive in Miami from Colombia consume 114 million liters of fuel and release 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide2.
Consumption estimates do not account for flower waste rates when product is being transported between producers and consumers. Flowers that arrive too damaged to sell or die in transit average 15% waste from supermarkets and 20% waste from wholesalers2. Multiply that times the number of high consumption countries worldwide and the biomass created becomes an environmental hazard. To counteract flower waste accumulation, researchers throughout Ethiopia and India have sought out ways to effectively and efficiently decompose green waste.
How has the floral industry impacted the environment?
In Ethiopia, farmers use biochar as a soil additive to improve water and nutrient retention1. The traditional means of creating biochar in Ethiopia has been shown to be inefficient and often leads to deforestation. Woody biomass is the most easily sourced and efficiently transformed into biochar1.
Farmers in India face harsher soil conditions due to their inability to carry fertilizer and other bulk resources such as manure up to the moderately steep hills in agriculture areas. The resulting soil erosion is of most concern to these farmers as it limits land availability, the nutrient density of soils, and increases the chance of the catastrophic loss of seasonal crops3.
How can flower growers worldwide improve growing operations?
In order to reduce environmentally destructive agricultural practices, researchers have explored alternate soil amendment options. With experimentation and education, Ethiopia has the potential to reduce environmental hazards such as flower wastes and other agricultural wastes1. Several biomass sources can be transformed into biochar much like the traditionally used woody mass derived from trees. This switch could slow or end deforestation activities while still providing important soil amendments for farmers.
Another waste management practice that has been researched in India is that of composting biomass. While seemingly straightforward, the process of efficient and effective decomposition is dependent upon the nature of plant biomass used for bioconversion and the diversity of organic organisms in any given compost pile.
Several compost piles were constructed in one study using several maintenance methods to determine the most efficient and environmentally sound compost practice.
In the control compost piles that didn’t compensate for moisture, the formation of lumps was observed after six days. These lumps then turned into a hard mass after an additional week4. The combination piles contained flower waste, dry leaves, and cow manure4. The beginning moisture content was approximately 70% and was reduced to about 50% within 12 days4.
To speed up the decomposition of all compost piles, they were initially covered with plastic sheeting for four days to increase the temperature inside and decrease the amount of time needed to reach the thermophilic phase4. The heat generated from this phase of bacterial activity combines with moister to create a vapor that breaks down tougher to degrade organic materials4.
The additional use of earthworms and microorganisms has long been considered best practice when composting organic materials due to their ability to accelerate the quality of organic manure produced by modifying the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil. The presence of cellulose-degrading microorganisms (CDMs) has also been shown to accelerate biodegradation processes such as enzyme digestion, nitrogen excretion, and transportation of immobilized nutrients3.
Taking responsibility and making changes in the floral industry
The amount of waste created in the floral industry is creating an environmental hazard. Without proper waste management practices, the industry is contributing to the environmental hotspots of degradation. By educating consumers and producers about the benefits of flower waste management, a positive feedback loop can be created. Composting of waste where it is produced reduces the number of resources needed to move the unusable product while also providing farmers with organic soil amendments that will make their operations more profitable.
2. Doughty, K. (2019, February 8). Roses are red, but they might not be green. Retrieved from https://aceee.org/blog/2019/02/roses-are-red-they-might-not-be-green
3. Rajkhowa, D. J., Sarma, A. K., Bhattacharyya, P. N., & Mahanta, K. (2019, March 18). Bioconversion of agricultural waste and its efficient utilization in the hilly ecosystem of Northeast India. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40093-019-0253-y
4. Sharma, D., & Yadav, K. (2017, March 8). Bioconversion of flowers waste: Composting using dry leaves as bulking agent. Retrieved from http://www.eeer.org/journal/view.php?doi=10.4491/eer.2016.126