Weeks ago I ordered two seed trays from a prominent seed company — and a humongous box arrived carrying two rather small seed trays packed in the equivalent of two leaf bags of Styrofoam peanuts. It took me 45 minutes to unpack these two trays because the peanuts were seemingly flying around the house while I was trying to keep them from two terriers who thought they looked temptingly delicious.
Immediately I sent off an e-mail to the company stating that I had a problem with a seed company that single-handedly was intent upon supporting the Styrofoam peanut industry. Receiving a form e-mail in reply thanking me for my e-mail but stating they were too busy to respond, I determined I would never use this particular company ever again.
Later this winter, when snow covered the ground and I was bored, I surfed through the website of a major nursery situated in South Carolina and placed an order of perennial plants that looked interesting. Realizing the nursery hadn’t asked me when I wanted the plants delivered, I called up the company, only to find that they were shipping out my order in the middle of March—way too early except for perhaps the easternmost part of North Carolina.
Horrified, I replied that date was impossible — and then I saw they were connected to the dreaded seed company that I had vowed never again to do business with. Spurred on, I asked if they packed their shipping plants in the Styrofoam peanuts. Receiving an acknowledgement that they used these peanuts, I replied that I couldn’t accept the order and would have to cancel it, unless they could pack the plants in newspaper or some other acceptable material.
The agent was firm in stating that they would only use the peanuts but she offered to reduce my bill by 20% if I kept the order. Readers, let me say here and now that I was tempted, very tempted. Already exasperated with the company’s inflexibility, I began to see visions of the environment in my vision so I cancelled my order, an order I really wanted, but not enough to deal with bags and bags of Styrofoam peanuts. The agent, reflecting the attitude of the nursery, could have cared less.
The Syrofoam peanuts do not break down in the environment. Even the biodegradable packing peanuts have their drawbacks. They are still a problem to contain when the package is opened and they still fly around due to static electricity. Both the biodegradable and the Styrofoam peanuts are dangerous to our pets should they be ingested.
Tony Avent of Plant Delights used to use packing peanuts but no longer does. None of my roses have ever arrived in packing peanuts. The point is this: Packing peanuts are no longer necessary to ensure plants arrive safely to their destination. The only reason suppliers are still using them is because they are cheap, an advantage to the sender, not to the recipient.
There are now alternatives, such as newspapers, inflatable air bags, or sheets of brown paper. The paper is recyclable although the inflatable air bags typically are not.
We should remember that as consumers we have some power. We can choose either to buy a plant from a particular nursery or not. If the nursery doesn’t care to have your business and doesn’t even respond to your complaints, then so be it: Don’t use them again. It’s that simple. There are plenty of nurseries out there and find one that (1) will ship your plants at the appropriate time; and (2) will heed your wishes as to how to pack them.
Any company that wants to send me my order packed deeply in packing peanuts in the middle of March simply doesn’t deserve my business.
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn are contributing columnists. Absent from their gardens, they enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of innovation and horticulture. More on Twitter @AbsenteGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.