Unfortunately, there seems to be a misunderstanding about a material used daily in florist shops around the globe. It is a fantastic material to use with flowers due its capacity repel moisture. ‘Cellophane’ is the first material that most florists reach for when making a bouquet of flowers. A water bubble can be created for the flower stems to sit in, known in the industry as an ‘aqua pack and there are countless print designs available in all colours and patterns.
A material named Cellophane, which is a trademark name, was invented over a 100 years ago made from wood, cotton or hemp – the cellulose from plant material. It has a similar appearance to the material we use today in the floristry industry, but it isn’t waterproof, it has a limited shelf life and is sensitive to light yellowing over time. These days the product that most people call cellophane, is actually a polypropylene film.
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer derived from petroleum, which was discovered in 1951. It has since become the world’s second most widely manufactured synthetic plastic. It is visually similar to Cellophane but there are fundamental chemical differences. The waterproof property of polypropylene makes a popular choice for packaging, especially in the flower world.
There are three options for the disposal of cello (polypropylene film), it can be recycled but not all authorities will accept it and the film rarely displays a recycling logo. The local authority website is a good place to find this information. Unfortunately, in Greater Manchester plastic film can’t be recycled in the mixed recycling bin and needs to be disposed of in the general waste bin. It can be incinerated as an energy source or it goes into landfill. It is NOT biodegradable!. An important point to make regarding landfill disposal is the decomposition processes in landfill only become activated when the landfill is sealed. It can take up to 2 years before a landfill is capped. Materials made of polypropylene (PP) degrade slowly in landfills and take around 20-30 years to completely decompose. If the polypropylene isn’t disposed of correctly and is left to degrade in the environment it slowly degrades into very small pieces. This is a serious problem for living creatures from all ecosystems.
Recent publicity has shown animals of all sizes with plastics in their digestive tract. Tiny microorganisms in the sea to large predators such as orca whales have been found dead with stomachs full of micro and macro plastics. The tiny pieces might pose an unseen threat worse than the larger plastic like bags and bottles. Plankton and filter-feeding fish often mistake micro-plastics for food. Once swallowed, plastics can release chemicals into the body especially fat-soluble organic poisons. These accumulate with each step up in the food chain, eventually posing grave dangers to long-lived predators like polar bears and humans!
A rough estimate of the amount of polypropylene film used by florists in UK is 62,500 metres per day!!! An average aqua pack uses 2.5 m of polypropylene film, there are approximately 5000 florists in the UK and let us say they make 5 bouquets per day. It soon mounts up, wait for it……22.8 million metres per year into landfill.
The amount of polypropylene film used by florists has increased enormously through my 29 year career. Reducing waste is one of the main focuses in my business. We use a minimal amount of polypropylene film. All the bouquets leaving my premises are wrapped with a 100% biodegradable materials such as tissue, kraft paper or ecowrap and finished with a raffia bow. We make beautiful hand tied bouquets with bare stems, only aqua packing out of necessity rather than habit. Our customers have no issues with it. The response, when we explain we are trying to reduce plastic waste, has only been positive.
I hope this this information can help customers and florists make everyday informed decisions. I’m a realist and know habits are hard to break but lots of little steps made by many is definitely the right direction.