House plants: valuable essential or unnecessary luxury?


By Caroline Cutting | @carolinecuttingauthor

Are houseplants a necessity or a luxury? A campaign backed by the Royal Horticultural Society argues that plants are essential to our environment and well-being and we should pay less tax on them.

At present, only food producing plants are exempt from VAT (value added tax); while ornamental and house plants are subject to a 20% standard rate tax. While the E.U is planning to reduce the amount of tax applied to goods with environmental benefits, this doesn’t extend to plants and seeds. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) says that the European Commision has overlooked, not only the role of plants and flowers as food for pollinating insects, but their importance in improving our environment and absorbing carbon dioxide; this includes inside the home as well as in our gardens.

As well as reducing emissions in outdoor spaces, it has long been believed that certain types of ornamental plants also reduce unhealthy particulates in homes and offices. NASA completed a clean air study that looked into suitable ‘air clearing’ plants for their space stations. They found that certain common houseplants removed many toxic substances from the air, such as formaldehyde and benzene. And the research doesn’t stop there.

A study conducted by Dr Chris Knight, and his colleagues at Exeter University ‘The relative benefits of green versus lean office space’ concluded that employees were 15% more productive in offices filled with just a small number of plants, compared to those whose offices were spartan, as ‘employees who actively engage with their surroundings are better workers’. This finding also supports the mental health benefits of plants and the act of tending them as a form of engagement with our environment.

The RHS lists improved mood and improved concentration as just two of the positive impacts that having houseplants in our environment gives us, and yet, in the UK we pay twice as much in VAT on these plants as our European neighbours France and Germany. While it is understandable that food producing plants should be seen as important to our environment, what about those of us who are not fortunate enough to have the space for these plants? Surely, the benefits of indoor plants are equal to that of our larger environment? Given the research done, and the results gathered on the potential increase in productivity of the nations workers, if each business were to furnish their offices with just a few houseplants, a reduction in the tax applied to them would benefit the country’s economy, and the mental health of its workers.

So, with this in mind, while VAT should be attached to luxury goods, it seems that those who would like to see tax reduced on ornamental plants have a very valid point. Houseplants are necessary for our mental and physical health, and our environment, in exactly the same way as food producing plants.

As the RHS asserts, ‘If we only grew food plants, the world would be an impoverished place, because the pollinators would not exist for agriculture and be far less in diversity’.

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