• The Sustainable Florist

Thoughts of a Florist: Dyed + Bleached Botanicals

For the past two years, I have spent Valentine's Day freelancing for other florists and learning from people I've looked up to in the industry. As valuable as those experiences were, my biggest takeaway was that I can no longer work with dyed and bleached product. This also meant that my opportunities freelancing went from some to none as the only florists in the city I know that do not use floral foam use dyed and bleached botanicals.

For me, the decision to stop using these products has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I hate rainbow baby's breath and bright, unnaturally coloured florals. Instead, it has everything to do with how being around this product makes me feel dizzy, nauseous, lightheaded, and leads to headaches and vomiting. It may seem a little extreme but picture working with your bare hands for hours in an unventilated workspace with red and blue dyes staining your hands and eventually dripping down your arms. You can see below an example of how easy this dye can transfer onto skin after picking up a dyed flower. There is no way of finding out how these botanicals were dried or what chemicals were used in the process overseas (I have unanswered emails to prove it). The chemicals and colourants definitely don't impact everyone this way, but when there is a complete lack of transparency in the process, how is someone like me supposed to work in floristry?

Dyed and bleached botanicals are so in and so trendy right now in the industry. I've seen many large-scale florist talk about how working with dyed and bleached flowers is a design choice, one of personal preference that should not be judged by others. I wanted to provide my perspective on this as someone who can get sick being around chemically altered botanicals.

No one cares whether you want to use dyed and bleached product. Sustainable florists are calling for transparency in the industry. If you choose to use these products, please label them honestly as dyed or bleached. Not only is this important for safety (what if someone like me was buying your flowers or getting married under your fully dyed flower arch?), but also for proper disposal and basic floral education. I have had people ask for blue ranunculus, copper eucalyptus, and stark white pampas grass thinking these are naturally occurring botanicals. In my opinion 'natural' should never be a colour palette for florists; it should mean it was grown and dried without chemicals.

I know there is a belief that dyed and bleached botanicals are eco-friendly because they are 'everlasting.' Nothing lasts forever - especially not delicate, dried botanicals that can break apart at the slightest touch. Realistically, most people get bored of the same dried flowers in a vase or they break and fall apart over time. If you consider yourself an eco or sustainable florist and use dyed or bleached products, please educate your customers on how to dispose of these altered botanicals properly. Once they have been through a dyeing or bleaching process they can no longer be composted and must be put in the trash at the end of their life.

It's tough being both a florist and a customer looking for naturally dried flowers. For example, I have purchased from my wholesalers before and been surprised with dyed product that was not advertised as so. As a customer, I have felt 'tricked' into purchasing dried flowers that were labelled as natural (and promised by the florist to be so) only to later discover they were bleached. When freelancing for florists, I would seek out those who claim to be 'organic' and 'chemical-free' only to be stuck working with unadvertised dyed and bleached product at an expense to my health. The lack of transparency and greenwashing runs deep in this industry and won't be fixed overnight, but imagine being able to know where your flowers were grown, what chemicals were used, and how to dispose of them responsibly? As florists who work with nature we have an expectation to be honest about how our work impacts the Earth we live on and to educate ourselves and our customers to make more sustainable choices. If your store is filled with imported dyed and bleach product through the winter months, why do you claim to be organic and chemical-free on your website? You cannot expect your customers to know the difference. More so, you have actually mislead them by claiming to value natural and chemical-free flowers but using chemically altered blooms that can no longer be composted. I am tired of seeing articles about the 'most environmentally friendly florist' in the city next to rainbow coloured florals. This is not natural, eco-friendly, or sustainable floristry; it is botanicals covered in micro-plastics and ridden with chemicals to remove their natural beauty.

Anyways, I wrote all this to explain how I will NOT be getting sick for the sake of Valentine's Day this year! I will just be working with natural product instead that I have dried myself or purchased dried from other local farmers. I've been saving up my dried inventory since the summer and cannot wait to show you what we are launching for Valentine's Day! When you are choosing to support me for Valentine's Day this year, you are not only choosing true, natural and chemical-free dried flowers but also supporting me in putting my safety first.

Thank you to anyone in the floral industry who will read this and consider my words. I know we are all doing our best right now as small business owners during this pandemic. I have had to make many sustainability sacrifices this past year due to the pandemic that were unavoidable and unexpected. Times are tough and money is tight, but these are some things to keep in mind for the future when sustainable choices may not be the difference between sink and swim. Stay safe and strong through these times and remember local blooms are on the horizon.

Florists - on using dyed and bleached products:

  • Don't use dried products that cannot be composted, like dyed and bleached product.

  • If you must use dyed botanicals, consider dyeing them yourself so you can know the chemicals being used. If you decide to dye yourself, use proper personal protective equipment. I know a florist who would actually wear a hazmat suit when dyeing their flowers to protect themselves from the chemicals.

  • If you already import dyed or bleached botanicals or are considering it, please read the resources below to understand the type of floristry you are supporting and the chemicals that are used in this process. At a minimum, you should label your products as dyed or bleached and notify customers how to dispose of them in an environmentally responsible way.

Flower Lovers - on purchasing natural products:

  • Familiarize yourself with the appearance of common dyed and bleached botanicals so you can recognize these even if your florist is not honest.

  • Ask your florist for a bouquet or dried flowers with no dyed or bleached product and to order more natural, chemical-free options that can be composted.

  • Ask your florist why they do not educate their customers on how to properly dispose of dyed or bleached product when they claim to care about the environment

  • Find a florist that does not use these products or is transparent about their use of these products.

  • If you decide to purchase dyed or bleached florals or already have some, make sure to dispose of them into the garbage so you do not contaminate your compost with these materials.

Do you know what dyed and bleached botanicals look like?

Swipe through to see some common examples - from obvious rainbow coloured botanicals to more subtle dyed flowers:

Want to learn more about dyed and bleached botanicals?

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think about dyed and bleached botanicals below!

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