All About Green

Saving the Environment with Less Cut Flowers

Dec 2023
Author: Green Power
photo from pixbay

Crowds of Hong Kongers throng the annual Lunar New Year flower markets and floral exhibitions,demonstrating just how much they love flowers. With Christmas, Lunar New Year,Valentine’s Day, and other celebrations lining up in the coming months, the high season for cut flowers is upon us. However, lurking behind the joyous and stunning bouquets lies potential damage to the environment of developing countries and the workers of the flower industry.

Currently, the majority of flowers being sold in Hong Kong are imported. According to “Hong Kong Merchandise Trade Statistics-Imports” published by governmental statistical bodies between 2013 and 2017, the import value of cut flowers from December to February is 50% higher on average than in the off-peak months of June to August. The primary sources of these imported flowers are the Netherlands and mainland China, with developing countries such as Malaysia, Ecuador, and Kenya also contributing a part.

Since flowers are not essential commodities, many assume that their cultivation predominantly occurs in expansive flower fields in developed regions. However, data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity shows that the Netherlands is the only developed country among the world’s top five flower exporters, while the others - Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ethiopia - are developing countries, and cut flower exports serve as a significant source of income for many of these developing nations.


Workers at a flower farm
Floral industry is important to Kenya’s economy
"Workers at a flower farm" by "Worldbank" is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

Behind the Beauty

Currently, there is a lack of comprehensive regulation on pesticide use in the global flower cultivation industry. According to an article entitled “A Review on Pesticides in Flower Production: A push to reduce human exposure and environmental contamination” published in the journal Environmental Pollution in 2021, a standard maximum limit on pesticide residue for imported flowers does not exist worldwide. Many flowers have been found to contain pesticides that are prohibited in edible agricultural products. While cut flowers are not typically consumed, inhaling or coming into contact with excessive pesticides still poses a threat to human health.

Numerous studies have also pointed out that the excessive use of pesticides is harmful to the respiratory system of flower workers and affects insects that are beneficial for agriculture, such as bees. Additionally, excess pesticides can infiltrate rivers and lakes through rainwater. For many developing countries already facing water scarcity and pollution issues, there is no doubt that flower cultivation exacerbates these problems in its consumption of large amounts of freshwater and the water pollution it causes. Multiple studies have highlighted the severe pollution of Lake Naivasha due to the floral industry. Lake Naivasha is a large lake of high ecological value in Kenya, and such pollution jeopardises the survival of over 400 bird species and impacts local access to freshwater. Meanwhile, we see similar situations in other developing countries with robust floral industries.


flamingoes in Lake Naivasha
Floral industry threaten over 400 bird species in Lake Naivasha due to pollution.
"Flamingoes" by "Atul Nulkar" is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED

In order to minimize the environmental impact of the floral industry, “Fairtrade Flowers” advocates for the better treatment of flowerworkers and the environment where the flowers are produced. This has gradually become mainstream in important floral markets such as Europe and North America. In 2021, Hong Kong ranked 42nd globally in terms of the import value of flowers. However, till today, it is rare to see Fairtrade Flowers in the local market. In order to reduce the environmental harm caused by the floral industry, there is a need for more promotion and education in Hong Kong to raise awareness within our society.

Having read this article, would you consider a “vegetable bouquet” made from edible vegetables a potential alternative the next time you purchase flowers?

Vegetatble bouquet
Vegetatble bouquet
©Elaine Yuen