In the UK we’re destroying 280,000 tonnes of peatlands a year and when including imported peat, this reaches a total of 805,000 tonnes solely for the use of horticulture, equivalent in mass to cutting down 80,500 mature trees.
At a time when the Government has committed to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050, it is paramount we safeguard peatlands which retain carbon at such a scale.
The demand in the UK for ‘growing media’ - products such as compost, soil conditioners and potting media used commonly for gardening, is 1.7m tonnes - of which over a third is peat.
There are 4m tonnes of peat free compost being produced every year in the UK meaning a transition to the latter is not just realistic but an environmental obligation.
It’s time to stop excavating our precious peatlands says the UK’s largest peat-free composter Veolia. The damaging practice has continued to grow despite national targets to phase it out.
In 2011 the Government called for retailers to reduce peat use by 2020, but industry has shown lack of commitment to embrace these ambitions. Compost no longer needs to include peat as there is already a rich supply of natural green waste on our doorsteps which can match its planting properties pound for pound.
Richard Kirkman, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Veolia UK & Ireland says:
Peatlands are currently being destroyed at breakneck speed in the UK. At this rate a vital ecosystem along with its wildlife and broader environmental value will be lost. Peatlands are carbon sinks, no different to rainforests like the Amazon - and yet peat decimation is happening on British soil.
Veolia collects green waste from millions of households through its nationwide composting sites, processing the organic material into a sustainable, peat-free, nutrient rich product for gardeners and farmers alike. We have the tools, supply and motivation to replace peat with a greener compost - but resolve must be reflected in legislation in order to encourage a quicker transition.
Government must act on two fronts; incentivise peat-free compost for consumers while discouraging peat use through a phased, wholesale ban. If we are serious about our planet’s health and childrens’ futures we need a root and branch removal of such a ruinous practice, especially when there is an alternative readily on hand to replace it.
Between 2011-2017 there has actually been an increase in peat-based products for the growing media industry - as of 2017 56% of growing material on retailers’ shelves is still peat-based.
The UK is one of the world's top ten countries in terms of peatland area, covering two million hectares. 60% of the UK's peatland is in Scotland. The UK's peatlands store over three billion tonnes of carbon, around the same amount as all the forest in the UK, France and Germany put together
Veolia is leading the crusade for sustainable compost - handling over 400,000 tonnes of household green waste every year derived from a nationwide network of 10 composting sites and producing up to 150,000 bags of peat-free compost known as Pro-Grow from this, meeting the highest industry quality standards in the process. This is likely to increase with the prospect of green waste becoming free to collect and on a more regular basis, as pledged in the government's Resources and Waste Strategy.
Grass cuttings, leaves and other green waste are collected from homes up and down the country to be shredded, sieved and transferred to vast heaps known as ‘windrows’. After three months, the decomposed green waste is matured and refined into a homogenous material which is then bagged and dispatched. The end product matches peat pound for pound as plant nutrition and is undoubtedly better for the green and pleasant land we all depend on.
UK peatlands are estimated to contain around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, which is around 9 years worth of the UK’s total annual CO2 emissions. As a country we also import millions of tonnes of peat from abroad, making us culpable for peat devastation beyond our borders. This has to stop.