Houseplants: When You Look at The Roots, Are they Really that Green?

houseplants are quickly becoming a must have in peoples homes. However, this sparks the question whether they are having a negative effect on our environment or if they are actually as green as they look.


A lot of people, myself included, love to be surrounded by nature and plants and now, with the majority of people spending their time at home, houseplants are becoming more popular. The idea of ‘green living’ can be attempted by filling your home with beautiful plants that clean the air and create an indoor utopia. Houseplants are an easy way to enrich your life with nature, especially with people who live in cities with little green space. They can bring a calming and mindful environment to an otherwise stressful place. However, I want to know if the green of the leaves are the only green part of the plant or if there is a sustainable way to keep and collect houseplants. Is the houseplant trend more harmful than it seems? 

The idea of ‘green living’ can be attempted by filling your home with beautiful plants that clean the air and create an indoor utopia.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to houseplants, but let’s focus on the good news first! It’s no secret that nature is great for mental health and wellbeing so bringing the outside in is beneficial with all the time we’re spending inside. I find the process of caring for houseplants very therapeutic; the joy I feel when my Pothos has a new leaf or the weeks I watched my Hoya until the buds finally flowered really lift my spirits and give me new sense of purpose past my academic commitments. Some people also name their plants, which I don’t fully understand, but people can easily develop emotional connections to their plants especially if you’ve had them for a long time!

One argument for plants being sustainable is that they filter the air. This may be true but it’s not as effective as one might think. The honest answer is that opening a window is far more effective at air filtering than having a few houseplants. A study showed that it would take 10 plants per square meter to compare with natural air filtration. Unless you are living in a literal indoor jungle, this is completely unrealistic for a normal person. I would recommend getting a few houseplants and don’t be discouraged if you kill a few at first, plant care is a skill not a talent and there are so many plant guides you can find online! Let’s dig deeper and get to the root of the problem. 

It’s no secret that nature is great for mental health and wellbeing so bringing the outside in is beneficial with all the time we’re spending inside.

Where do your plants come from? I get mine from a few of different places and once I discovered online plant shopping I became curious about the whole growing process of houseplants and how they get to garden centres. Most houseplants are grown in large greenhouses with artificial lighting and fertilisers and plants that come to the UK are usually from The Netherlands. However more exotic plants like Orchids can come from places like Indonesia. These greenhouses do take up a lot of energy but they’re always innovating to be more efficient by using better LEDs or upgrading the heating and humidity systems. It has also been shown that larger scale advanced greenhouses are far better than lots of smaller ones! So we have considered the impact of the shipping process, surely what else can be wrong with houseplants? 

You’ll notice that most of the plants you see in shops are potted in plastic nursery pots, most of which are very difficult to recycle due to the colours in the plastics. If, like me, you become an avid plant collector, the pots will start collecting after years of repotting. Generally, these aren’t too much of a problem if you reuse them for new plants and propagations but most people will forget and throw them away. Dobbies is a UK based garden centre that has stores all over the country. They have developed a great solution to this problem!

They have launched a new range of sustainable houseplants where the pot is made from coconut husks, coir materials, that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. The great thing about these is that they take about 2 years to biodegrade so you have plenty of time to buy a nice pot and once the time comes you can just pop the whole plant into the soil, coir pot included. They also come with the added perk that the roots of the plant can breathe easier. It’s great that a big garden brand has taken this step in the right direction and I hope it encourages other plant retailers to make plants more sustainable for everyone. 

The use of Peat moss or soil is an aspect of keeping houseplants that is darker than the rest. Peat bogs are amazing carbon sinks that take thousands of years to form, but if they keep getting dug up, we will eventually have thousands of more tonnes of carbon in our atmosphere. On the bright side, the UK has legislation in place which plans to phase out commercial use of peat moss and soil by 2030, which is great but the more worrying factor is that its usage is increasing in the US. Yep, that’s right folks, its the Americans again! Peat bogs contain about a third of all the soil carbon in the world, and its extraction gives off carbon and damages natural habitats. There are so many alternatives that can work just as well as peat so I really hope in the coming years that its popularity will decrease.

Individual impact isn’t something you should fixate on, but we can all do our little bit to influence wider society to become more sustainable.

Look, keeping houseplants isn’t going to destroy the planet. Individual impact isn’t something you should fixate on, but we can all do our little bit to influence wider society to become more sustainable. There are so many great ways to expand your plant collection without spending too much all while being sustainable! You can exchange plant cuttings with fellow plant lovers, propagate your existing plants, buy from small local businesses and look out for second-hand plants (sometimes they pop up on Facebook marketplace). I hope this has encouraged you to invest in some sustainable houseplants as I really love all my plants and I’m still learning each of their specific needs. Let’s hope the plants last through the dark Scotland winters! 

Art by Tina Smaile

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