"Are your houseplants actually good for the planet?"

According to analytics from social media management firm Sprout Social, plants were mentioned on Instagram an average of more than 3,000 times a day in July. The hashtag #plantmom has been used more than 2.6 million times on the social media site, by both everyday plant owners and influencers serving up growing guides and house tours. In this blog on vox.com, Audrey Carleton analyzes the houseplant popularity that surged during the pandemic. 

As with any social media trend, the rise in plant ownership sparked a newfound demand for the industry as a whole: The sector grew by 50 percent ($1.7 billion) between 2016 and 2019, per the National Gardening Association’s annual survey, but that growth has accelerated over the course of the pandemic. According to Greenhouse Management magazine’s 2020 State of the Industry report, 71 percent of North American greenhouses saw an increase in plant sales in 2020. 

Perhaps understanding today’s houseplant boom requires looking at the last one, University of Georgia Extension horticulturist Bodie Pennisi told the Associated Press in 2018. In the 1970s, she said, the Green Revolution — a rapid expansion in agricultural food production spurred by the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation techniques that improved overall efficiency — led to a similar rise in the availability and subsequent popularity of indoor plants.

It didn’t take long for these practices to garner mainstream criticism for their environmental impact. Pesticides and fertilizers leach into nearby soil and waterways, potentially raising toxicity levels and contributing to environmentally harmful algae blooms. (Agricultural production accounts for approximately 52 percent of the US land base, according to the USDA; agriculture and forestry combined were responsible for roughly 10.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.) While the exact impact of houseplant farming isn’t understood as well as that of industrial agriculture, its practices paint a picture that isn’t too far off.

Embracing green practices could look like several things, the researchers wrote — using space and energy more efficiently, recycling water, and misting sparingly are a start, and reusing materials like seedling holders also helps, Spirgen says. “A lot of producers recycle that plastic. A lot of them don’t,” she says. “It really depends on the individual operation there.”

Read the complete article at www.vox.com.


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