Charities call out companies still selling climate-harming compost

Environment experts have written to garden retailers challenging them to end the sale of peat-based compost ahead of global climate and nature talks this year.
  • The government aims for the entire English horticultural sector to be peat free by 2030 and set voluntary targets for all compost sold to the public to be peat-free by 2020. But no well-known retailers, except the Royal Horticultural Society, met the 2020 target
     
  • Only 4/21 major retailers have committed to ending peat sales this year
  • Co-op moved to only peat-free compost in March 2021. Waitrose, Dobbies and Travis Perkins will cease to stock peat compost by the end of this year.[1] B&Q has committed to 2023 and Wickes have a 2025 deadline. Other major retailers have so far failed to make any commitment.

 

In a letter to major retailers, 27 environmental charities are warning that sales of peat-based compost are damaging nature and contributing to climate change, and should be ended within the next 12 months.[2] They are challenging businesses to play their part in protecting wildlife and our climate, by committing this summer to ending peat-compost sales, before the UK-hosted global climate talks this November.

In 2011 the Government set voluntary targets for retailers to end sales of peat-compost to the public by 2020, but 10 years on retailers are still failing to act. In 2019 peat still made up over 40% by volume of the growing media sold in the retail sector, a huge volume of UK compost sales with the amateur gardening sector making up c.70% of horticultural peat use. A survey of retailers by The Wildlife Trusts has shown that since the 2020 voluntary target to end peat-compost sales was spectacularly missed, only Co-op (which now only sells peat-free bagged compost), Waitrose and Travis Perkins have committed to action this year.

The following 17 retailers, whom the charities have written to today, have not yet committed to ending sales of this damaging product within 2021:

  1. B&Q (plan to be peat-compost free from some point in 2023)
  2. British Garden Centres
  3. Wyevale Garden Centres
  4. Gardenstoreonline
  5. Blue Diamond
  6. Klondyke & Strikes Garden Centres
  7. Hillier
  8. Haskins
  9. Suttons
  10. Homebase
  11. Wickes (plan to be peat-compost free from some point in 2025)
  12. Tesco
  13. Asda
  14. Aldi
  15. Lidl
  16. Morrison’s
  17. Sainsburys

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “If garden retailers are serious about their responsibility to tackle climate change, they will stop selling peat compost right now. There is no time left to spare and there are no excuses left to stall with.

“The Wildlife Trusts’ petition proves there is huge public support for a ban on the sale of these planet destroying peat products. We challenge retailers to be ambitious and step up to the challenge as soon as possible - rather than waiting until they are forced by the Government to stop sales of this outdated and unnecessary product.”

Jenny Hawley, Plantlife’s Policy Manager, said: “Garden retailers should lead the way in ditching ‘dirty’ peat in favour of greener, peat-free gardening. Healthy peatlands are irreplaceable carbon stores and precious havens for a superb variety of mosses and wildflowers such as bog asphodel, cuckooflower, marsh saxifrage and sundews. Yet commercial extraction can destroy over 500 years’ worth of peat growth in a single year. If we’re to get serious about tackling the climate and nature emergency, we must keep peat in the ground, not the growbag.”

Martin Spencer, Co-op’s Buyer for Home and Leisure, said: “We want to make it easier for our Members, customers and communities to make small changes in their everyday lives which, together, add up to making a big difference to our environment. We are committed to reducing the environmental impact of our products, and we now only sell peat-free bagged compost in our stores as we continue to work to look for new and collaborative ways of working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – something which is imperative if we are to have a healthy, sustainable natural environment to pass on to future generations.”

There is huge public support for ending the sale of peat-based compost with a recent petition from the Wildlife Trusts attracting 30,000 signatures. YouGov research for Wildlife and Countryside Link in January revealed that most British consumers want to see peat-based compost banned. Only 5% oppose the banning of peat-based compost, with 47% supportive, 22% neutral and 26% unsure. Over 65s are most supportive with almost 6 in 10 (59%) backing a ban (this is important to note as 65-74 year-olds also have the highest spend on gardening products).

Peatlands are the most carbon-dense land-based habitats in the world, and the UK’s biggest carbon sink. But damage to our peatlands from horticulture, farming and forestry practices is causing the release of an estimated 23 million tonnes of carbon every year from UK peatlands, making it vital to restore and protect our peatlands as part of UK action on climate change. [3] Peatlands are also unique habitats home to rare wildlife like the golden plover, hen harrier and large heath and swallowtail butterflies. Protecting our peatlands protects the homes of our most vulnerable birds, butterflies, plants and other wildlife.

Alternatives to peat-based compost are increasingly available to retailers, including coir dust (from coconut husks), wood fibre and bar, and many gardeners can also make their own high-quality compost at home. The Government committed in its recent Peat Action Plan to consult in 2021 on legislation to ban peat-based compost measures, but retailers can, and should, commit to ending peat compost sales before they are required to by law.

Editor's notes

  1. Co-op only sells peat-free bagged compost, from March it rolled-out New Horizon peat-free Tomato planter, and peat-free compost in 20L and 50L pack sizes, to c,1,100 of its stores which sell bagged compost. Earlier this year Co-op announced a new ten-point climate plan which sets out the blueprint for the retailer to achieve net zero for its direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2040.
  2. Organisations supporting the letter include: The Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife, The Woodland Trust, RSPB, Wildlife Gardening Forum, The Rivers Trusts, Greenpeace UK, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, A Rocha UK, Buglife, Rewilding Britain, Wild Justice, League Against Cruel Sports, Campaign for National Parks, WWT, British Mountaineering Council, Butterfly Conservation, ClientEarth, Open Spaces Society, Bat Conservation Trust, Earthwatch Europe, Peat Free April, Garden Organic, Sustainable Soils, CPRE The countryside charity, Friends of the Earth, and Wildlife and Countryside Link
  3. Peatlands are the UK’s biggest carbon sink, storing around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. However, due to its poor condition, much of the UK’s 2.6 million hectares (ha) of UK peatland is no longer actively capturing carbon. Estimates suggest it could be emitting 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. This equates to approximately half the amount released through the nation’s agricultural sector.

FACTFILE:

  • ONS says fully restoring the UK’s degraded peatlands could cost between £8bn-£22bn over the next 100 years, but would save £109bn in terms of reduced carbon emissions.
  • Globally peat holds twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests (Source UN Environment Programme)
  • Only 20% of the UK’s peatlands are considered in a healthy “near-natural” state. The remaining 80% have been modified, with some damaging agricultural, horticultural and forestry practices leading to loss or degradation of the peat ecosystem.

Sign the peat petition

Join over 30,000 people calling for an immediate ban on the sale of peat-based products. 

Sign the petition

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Learn more about how to go peat free

We've got some top tips for you!

Go peat free