All sales of peat to amateur gardeners in England will be banned by 2024.
Peatlands are the UK’s largest carbon store but only approximately 13% of our peatlands are in a near-natural state. This degradation has occurred due to drainage for agricultural use, overgrazing and burning, as well as extraction for use in growing media. Bagged retail growing media accounts for 70% of the peat sold in the UK and is frequently misused, for example being used as a soil improver rather than a medium in which to propagate plants. When this extraction takes place, the carbon stored inside the bog is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.
Peat extraction also degrades the state of the wider peatland landscape, damaging habitats for some of our rarest wildlife such as the swallowtail butterfly, hen harriers and short-eared owls, and negatively impacting peat’s ability to prevent flooding and filter water. A significant proportion of the UK’s water supply lands or flows through peatlands.
There are many peat-free composts now available, which have improved in quality a lot since first being tried by compost manufacturers.
It is wise to read the packaging and information before you purchase as different elements will be more suited for particular purposes and different types of plants. There may be differing watering and feeding requirements to that of peat-based compost. It may also say it is eco-friendly or organic, which does not necessarily mean that it is peat-free unless it says so.
These are the types of materials used in peat-free compost; blended in with non-organic materials such as sharp sand, grit, rock and perlite.
Coir is coconut fibre and is mainly imported from Sri Lanka. It holds water naturally, really well and has a mix of fine and coarse fibres to hold air in its pore spaces, making it good for growing. However, it doesn’t hold nutrients well. Despite this being a waste material, in terms of environmental impact, it has been questioned as to whether it is an 'eco' alternative given that it is transported to the UK from Sri Lanka.
Most peat-free composts contain wood-based materials primarily, such as bark, wood fibres, sawdust, wood or paper waste. Wood-based mixes have great drainage properties and are low in pH, so with the correct mix of other materials, will be beneficial to most plant growing.
The green waste collected by local councils and companies, is composted. Its high pH and nutrient content make it a good soil improver and used for mulch. It is also used with other materials to make potting compost.
Make Your Own Compost
If you have an allotment plot, you will likely have a compost bin that you're working to eventually use on your soil beds. This takes time to fully rot down sufficiently and can be inconsistent in terms of the mix of materials within it, however there is no carbon footprint as it is 'manufactured' where the end-product is being used. See more about composting here.
Locally Sourced Available Waste
Researchers are working to determine whether locally sourced waste materials can be used to be blended with other materials, such as carpet fibres, cardboard, wool, arable straw and paper (waste).