Plants are great. They give us oxygen, make us happy, and add a little color to our lives. What could be bad about a plant–especially a houseplant that turns a barren apartment into a lush living space? Unfortunately, it’s not all good when it comes to houseplants. 

In the United Kingdom, the Royal Horticultural Society saw a 60 percent increase in houseplant sales from 2019 to 2020. People are buying a lot more plants, but at what cost? 

Shipping and Handling 

We’ve become accustomed to asking where our food and clothes come from, so why not ask where our plants come from?  

Not all the plants you can buy at a local plant shop are local. Many of them were grown overseas then shipped once they matured enough to make the journey. Fay Kenworthy, the co-founder of PlantSwap, says that “[plant] transportation represents a significant ecological footprint.” Some plants are grown in high sun countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya then sent over to muggy London or Seattle. 

The main goal is to ensure that you aren’t buying a plant that had to ride in an airplane to get to you. Being driven or shipped (on a ship) is far more eco-friendly. 

High Demand Leads to Exploitation 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a product be in high demand and be able to supply it to consumers without there being some form of exploitation involved in its production process. 

Megan Garber described how we’ve commodified nature in The Atlantic, saying that we’ve separated the word ‘plants’ from ‘nature’ and that “nature not [be seen] as a commodity to be exploited, but as a community to be respected.”

Houseplant farms require lots of water, land, and tightly-controlled heat and lighting conditions. It’s difficult to ignore the irony in that by growing plants, we rely heavily on man-made energy and damage the surrounding environment. 

The high demand for house plants has also lowered the monetary value of several plants since they’ve become more readily available. 

Plant Fast Fashion 

Even nature isn’t immune to social media and fast fashion trend cycles. Take the Pilea money tree for example. This Chinese houseplant didn’t become popular in the Western market until the 2010s when it suddenly exploded. Every plant Instagram and beauty blogger had one stuck on their decorative shelf. Now, the Pilea is sold in every greenhouse for a fraction of the price simply because it’s no longer trendy. 

Think about other houseplants that are trendy right now. Monsteras and succulents can be seen everywhere right now. What’s going to happen when people deem them outdated? Why are we even commodifying them, to begin with? 

Better Ways to Honor Nature 

Instead of buying new plants in plastic pots, try finding waste and shipping-free ways to fill your space with nature. Exchanging clippings and seeds with neighbors and propagating plants is a more sustainable way to enjoy indoor nature. You can also focus on collecting plants that are local to your area! 

It’s important to reiterate that these environmental issues have nothing to do with the actual plants. The way we commodify, produce, and push trend cycles are to blame for how we’ve managed to turn even the most natural of things into something environmentally destructive. Houseplants aren’t the worst for the environment, but they could certainly be better.

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