Are indoor plants good for the environment?

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I’ve devoted a decent portion of my life to being good to the environment (not that it appear to have noticed)and to taking care of dozens of house plants.

If you didn’t know this already, there are really only three things everyday folk like us can do to significantly reduce our impact on the environment.

You’re not gonna like them.

  1. Don’t fly
  2. Don’t have children
  3. Go vegan

If we all did just one of those things, the impact on the environment would be monumental.

By happy chance I don’t fly. I don’t like it and it’s expensive, as well as being bad for the environment. I also don’t like to leave my pets for too long. My plants will be fine, btw, read this post on leaving plants when you go away if you’re worried.

I also don’t have kids. I don’t like them. It would be disastrous if we stopped having kids altogether, so my view on this is that those that want kids should have them, and those that don’t shouldn’t.

I’m also vegan and only have herbivorous pets. I say herbivorous and not vegan, because rabbits will happily nick a bit of mince off the floor. They don’t give a shit about the vegan trifecta: animals, health and environment.

I don’t say this to brag, but more of an intro to the whole environment and how I’m conscious about my impact on it. I have an entire blog on veganism for Christ’s sake. Go look at it. it’s great.

But then I read that house plants aren’t great for the environment and I’m sad. Not shocked, really, because anyone with half a brain would realise that perhaps shifting millions of tropical plants from one end of the world to another, and then growing them in artificial conditions may not be the best.

But I love my plants. Do I have to stop buying them in order to help the environment?

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The good

Ok, let’s be honest, there isn’t a lot here.

House plants can improve the air around us

See? This is kind of a non-point because a house plant’s ability to clean the air is an extremely contentious issue. A single plant will have an extremely minimal effect on air quality.

House plants bring us closer to nature

I actually think this is one of the best things about house plants. Getting into plant parenting has given me more confidence in the garden. I’ve grown tomatoes and basil before and lost interest when they were taken out by aphids.

I have more knowledge of plants now and can appreciate taking care of them as an act in itself, rather than looking after with the endgame of being able to eat them.

Being able to grow my own food could be a valuable asset in the future. If we have to limit imports of perishable items, such as tomatoes, I can grow my own. My plan of attack re. aphids is to employ a standing army of ladybirds, btw.

House plants can improve our well-being

I don’t need to go to tropical beaches to experience the tropics. I surround myself with tropical plants all year round and it has a really positive impact on my health. I know this isn’t directly having a benefit on the environment BUT happy humans are more likely to want to save their planet.

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The bad

This is a slightly longer section. You see, there’s no good way to transport plants from one side of the world to the other.

Transportation/ plant air miles

Ok, this is a bit of a complicated issue, but the main issue is that plants are shipped from countries like Indonesia by air. Or possibly boat. I can’t find any information on methods of shipping, but I assume they’re not teleporting.

Whilst it would seem more environmentally friendly to ship plants from greenhouses in the Netherlands rather than from greenhouse in Indonesia, there’s not just air miles to consider. Indonesia has all the humidity and warmth house plants could possibly need, all year round.

The Netherlands? Not so much. Nurseries there will rely on humidifiers and heaters that will have a significant carbon footprint.

Use of plastic pots

This is an issue that the plant and gardening community are only just starting to address, but it’s an important issue. I try to reuse plastic pots as much as I can, but because they’re not pretty, I end up buying another pot for it to sit in.

The solution is to make prettier pots. I’m sure of it. And make the pots that garden plants come in pretty too, so that I can reuse all my old pots.

There are some garden centres in the UK like Edible Culture, that are waaay ahead of everyone else when it comes to eco-friendly gardening, but we need more. Me travelling all the way Faversham to get eco-friendly plants really defeats the purpose.

Energy usage

Like I mentioned before, nurseries have to expend huge amounts of energy to keep the humidity and temperature high enough to keep the plants in optimal condition. We’re not talking a little home humidifier – we’re talking huge industrial beasts.

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The ugly

The environmental impact of sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss is great for house plants: it’s organic, retains moisture and nutrients, increases root growth, and can improve the soil.

If you watch Gardener’s World (and if you don’t WHY NOT? It’s worth it for Nigel and Nellie alone), you’ll notice that they always use peat-free moss, and it’s because peat bogs are being destroyed when we harvest them for moss. In the UK, the government are phasing out it’s use, and it’s predicted that by 2030, we won’t’ be able to get it any more. Fine by me.

This is not the case in America, where use of peat moss is on the rise. The problem with destroying peat bogs is 1. they take thousands of year to form and 2. they’re a massive carbon sink. If we lose them all, we’ll end up with thousands of tonnes more carbon in the atmosphere. Fuck.

Plant poaching

I was completely unaware that this was a thing until I watching Monty Don’s American gardens programme, but it’s a real thing! Common plants like barrel cacti are becoming endangered in the wild because people are taking them and selling them.

Ginseng, Venus flytraps and Cycads are three of the most poached plants in the world, and are in danger of becoming extinct. Guards are having to be employed to stop poachers. It’s mental!

Don’t take plants from the wild kids, it’s rude as hell.

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How to be more eco-friendly in your house plant hobby

Like most hobbies, there are things you can do to reduce the impact you’re having on the environment. There are LOADS of things we can do as plant parents, to help the planet

Swap cuttings

One of the great things about plants is that you can make many plants from one. See if there are any plants swaps near you, or start one.

I can’t really do this because I live in the arse-end of nowhere, but I do swap cuttings with my dad.

Be mindful of where your plants are coming from

Buy from reputable sellers, i.e. not that one dodgy guy on eBay that’s selling variegated monstera seeds. Don’t be afraid to ask seller’s where they source their plants from. If they’re legit, they’ll be happy to tell you.

Limit use of sphagnum moss

I know this isn’t easy because sometimes plants already have it when you get the, but there are alternatives. Coir is a great alternative to sphagnum moss, because it’s a byproduct of coconuts, which will be harvested anyway.

I now make my own peat-free house plant potting mix from coco coir, bark, perlite, worm castings and activated charcoal.

However, you’re probably already aware that the coir business isn’t without its own seedy underbelly. There are a lot of accusations of modern slavery and exploitation in the coconut industry, so if you can source ethical ones, that’s always best.

I also came across an article on why worm castings aren’t great because some earthworms are invasive species, but I don’t think I have the energy for that. I do fancy starting my own wormery and getting my own worm castings that way (it’s gross, I know), so get ready for that post.

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Conclusion

Whilst having house plants isn’t beneficial to the environment, there are things you can do to offset your environmental impact (like going vegan).

If you’re a rare plant collector, research your wishlist plants thoroughly to make sure that there are no issues with plant poaching. You don’t want to accidentally kill the last of a plant species by leaving it too close to the radiator. That’s one hell of a cross to bear.

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