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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

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How Much Peat Is Used for Gardening?

Miriam Jones: Peat that is harvested today can be hundreds or thousands of years old. It can be harvested much faster than it accumulates, so one problem with a horticultural peat harvest is that a nonrenewable resource is being depleted.

Jorge Hoyos-Santillan: Nowadays, most of the imports and exports of peat are related to agriculture, horticulture and flower packing. Unfortunately, to extract peat it is necessary to remove the vegetation cover and it usually requires draining the peatlands to ease the extraction. By altering the hydrology and removing the vegetation, the overall carbon balance in the peatland usually shifts from carbon sink to carbon source. In terms of climate change mitigation, peat extraction is a net contribution to global warming. Worldwide peat extraction is a massive economic activity; Canada and the European Union are the largest exporters.

Sophie Wilkinson: Peatland conservation and its enormous potential to help mitigate climate change is gaining traction across many countries. Last year the U.K. laid out a plan to ban the use of sphagnum peat in commercial compost. This will reduce the need for peat harvesting. However, given that there are few affordable or sustainable alternatives to peat compost, there is a worry that compost producers will import peat to fill the demand, leading to a negative effect on peatland conditions globally, even if those in the U.K. are better conserved. This exemplifies the need to embed peatland conservation into policy on an international scale, to ensure that real progress is made and sustained.

Edward Struzik: There are alternatives to peat, like blends of coconut and wood fiber, but they tend to be expensive, not as widely available in North America as in Europe and not as effective as natural peat. But in recent years, the quality of these products has greatly improved, so it’s worth giving them a try, including the new compost made from household waste.

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