Is floral foam biodegradable? (3 reasons why it is toxic)

This article will cover areas such as the biodegradability of floral foam, the components of floral form, their properties and uses, and the eco-friendliness of the floral foams.

Is floral foam biodegradable?

No, floral foam is not biodegradable. It is made from synthetic plastic polymer of phenol and formaldehyde which is not easily degraded by microorganisms.

The biodegradation process occurs only in organic materials which are derived from plants and animal products.

Most synthetic materials are either partially degradable or completely non-biodegradable. 

Biodegradation is the process by which naturally occurring organic materials are broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small particles which are not harmful to the environment.

Biodegradation is carried out by different agents such as UV radiation, light, wind, and water but the most effective agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and assimilation.

The biodeterioration process loosens up the structure of the organic substance. For instance, the cell wall of plants is weakened by light, wind, water, and UV radiation.

Bio-fragmentation involves the breakdown of organic matter into smaller, nontoxic particles by bacteria and fungi, releasing water and carbon dioxide in the process.

Assimilation is the last stage of biodegradation and it involves the microorganisms taking up the products of bio-fragmentation into their biological machinery to be used to make energy.

Biodegradation can either involve the microorganisms using oxygen, aerobic biodegradation or it can involve the microorganisms which do not use oxygen, anaerobic biodegradation.

What is floral foam?

This is a spongy, plastic material that is used to keep flowers healthy.

Being a sponge, it holds a lot of water which supports the flowers’ biological system by providing replenishing water.

Floral forms come in different shapes and colors depending on the user’s discretion and the arrangement patterns needed.

The components of floral foam include the following:


This is an aromatic organic compound. It is also called carbolic acid. It is made up of phenyl groups bonded to a hydroxyl group.

Properties of phenol.

The following are the properties of phenol molecules.

  • Phenol is organic and therefore it is biodegradable.
  • It is partially soluble in water.
  • It is a weak acid.
  • It reacts with several bases such as pyridine, diethyl ether, and diethyl sulfide.
  • It can react with oxygen or carbon to its equivalent phenoxide.
  • It exhibits some tautomerism with its keto tautomer cyclohexadiene.
  • Phenol undergoes substitution reactions such as halogenation, acylation, and sulfonation.
  • It is neutralized by sodium hydroxide to form sodium phenate or sodium phenolate.

Applications of phenol.

Most phenol molecules areIt used to make precursors for plastic synthesis.

The following are the uses of phenol molecules.

  • It is reacted with acetone to form bisphenol A, which is a precursor for polycarbonate and epoxide resins.
  • It is reacted with alkylphenols or diphenols together with formaldehyde to give phenolic resins such as bakelite and floral foam.
  • Hydrogenation of phenol gives cyclohexanone which is a precursor for the synthesis of nylon.
  • Alkylation of phenols is used to form detergents.
  • It is used as a precursor for the synthesis of drugs such as aspirin and several herbicides.
  • It is used in liquid-liquid phenol-chloroform extraction of nucleic acids from tissues.
  • It is used in hospitals as an antiseptic.
  • Phenol is used in the treatment of ingrown fingernails in a process called matrixectomy.
  • Phenol spray is used to treat sore throats.
  • It is used to manufacture cosmetics such as sunscreen and skin lightening components.

Phenol toxicity.

Phenol compounds contain some degree of toxicity to the user.

  • It causes eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation.
  • Prolonged contact with phenol may cause contact dermatitis.
  • Long contact with phenol may cause burns since it is acidic.
  • Inhalation of phenol vapor can cause lung edema.
  • It is toxic to the central nervous system and may cause coma, seizures, or dysrhythmia.
  • Long-term contact may cause toxic effects on the liver and kidneys.
  • It can cause a risk of miscarriage in pregnant women.


This is an organic hydrocarbon that is naturally occurring in plants and animals. It is also called methanal, or formalin.

It is the simplest member of the aldehyde class.

Due to its high number of applications, formaldehyde is produced in bulk in industries. It is produced in the following means:

It is produced via catalytic oxidation of methanol using silver as the catalyst. A mixture of iron and molybdenum or vanadium oxide can also be used as a catalyst.

The main process used is the one where methanol and oxygen are reacted together at a temperature of 250-400⁰ C using a mixture of iron oxide and molybdenum or vanadium as the catalyst.

The reaction yields formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde may occur in different forms but the most common ones are:

  • Molecule formaldehyde- This is colorless with a pungent smell. It is a stable molecule under high temperatures but polymerizes when it’s condensed into a liquid.
  • 1,3,5-trioxane ( tri-formaldehyde)- This is a solid that can dissolve in organic solvents such as naphthalene and diethyl ether. It is a polymer made up of 3 molecules of formaldehyde and hence it is a trimer of molecular formaldehyde.
  • Paraformaldehyde- this is a solid form of formaldehyde, it is white. The solid is insoluble in many organic solvents.

Properties of formaldehyde.

Phenol contains the following characteristics.

  • It is flammable.
  • It has a pungent smell.
  • It is colorless at room temperature.
  • It is biocidal to bacteria and fungi.

Applications of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is one of the most used organic compounds.

It is used in the following ways.

  • It is used to make urea-formaldehyde resin.
  • It is used in making melamine resin.
  • It is used in making phenol-formaldehyde resin such as floral foam.
  • It is used to make alcohols such as pentaerythritol which is used in making paints and explosives.
  • It is also used in making derivatives used in polyurethane paints.
  • It is used as a disinfectant since it kills bacteria and fungi.
  • It is used as an additive in the manufacturing of vaccines.
  • Formaldehyde is used in cosmetics as a preservative.
  • It is used in aquaria to treat parasite infestation.

Formaldehyde toxicity.

Formaldehyde is widely considered to have toxic effects on humans and other animals. The effects include:

  • It is regarded as carcinogenic.
  • It burns to produce toxic fumes which are air pollutants.
  • It is an eye and skin irritant.
  • It is toxic to the nervous system.

Is floral foam eco-friendly?

No, according to a study, floral foam is not very friendly to our environment. Made from synthetic plastics, floral foam is not susceptible to microbial degradation.

The floral form is also non-recyclable because when used over a certain period, it breaks down into microplastics that can not be recovered.

The components of floral foam will therefore accumulate in landfills and water bodies and release toxic compounds which will affect plants and animals.

Is floral foam toxic?

Yes, floral foam is toxic to both plants and animals.

The main components of floral foam are phenol and formaldehyde. These are chemicals that have been studied and proven to cause some types of cancer like leukemia.

Formaldehyde also irritates the skin, eyes, and nose, and having long contact can cause dermatitis.

Phenol is a weak acid and having long contacts can result in burns and dermatitis. Inhalation of phenol fumes may cause lung edema and coma. It also may cause a nervous system breakdown.

Phenol may also cause miscarriage in pregnant women when they have long contact with it.


This article has answered the question of floral foam biodegradability.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • The components of floral foam.
  • The properties and uses of phenol.
  • The properties and uses of formaldehyde.
  • Toxicity of floral foam.
  • Eco-friendliness of floral foam.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions FAQs: Is floral foam biodegradable?

Why is floral foam toxic?

Floral foam is toxic because it is made up of phenol and formaldehyde, highly carcinogenic chemicals.

Phenol and formaldehyde also cause eye, skin, and nasal irritation. Long contact with phenol may cause second or third-degree burns and may also cause dermatitis.

Does floral foam dissolve in water?

No, the floral foam does not dissolve in water but instead absorbs water because it has a spongy texture.

What can I use instead of flower foam?

Sand, marble, gravel, and compacted moss can be used in place of floral foam.

They are also readily available and do not pollute the environment. Moss is a plant product and therefore biodegradable.


Zuckerman, B.; Buhl, D.; Palmer, P.; Snyder, L. E. (1970). “Observation of interstellar formaldehyde”. Astrophys. J. 160: 485–506. Bibcode:1970ApJ…160..485Z. doi:10.1086/150449.

Capponi, Marco; Gut, Ivo G.; Hellrung, Bruno; Persy, Gaby; Wirz, Jakob (1999). “Ketonization equilibria of phenol in aqueous solution”. Can. J. Chem. 77 (5–6): 605–613. doi:10.1139/cjc-77-5-6-605.

De Groot, Anton C.; Flyvholm, Mari-Ann; Lensen, Gerda; Menné, Torkil; Coenraads, Pieter-Jan (2009). “Formaldehyde-releasers: Relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Contact allergy to formaldehyde and inventory of formaldehyde-releasers” (PDF). Contact Dermatitis. 61 (2): 63–85. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.2009.01582.x. 

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