Market participants join forces to reduce peat use

Wettbewerbsbeitrag "Schaufel im Boden" von Lubomira Veselovska aus Brugg aufgenommen am Sonntag (20.09.15) in Windisch
© BAFU

Peat extraction causes environmental damage that affects the climate and biodiversity. In Switzerland, moors have been protected since 1987, and peat may no longer be extracted. Nevertheless, it is estimated that Switzerland imports up to 524,000 m3 of peat every year. In the interest of also reducing the environmental damage caused abroad, the Federal Council adopted the peat exit plan in 2012. The first phase of the exit plan stipulates industry to actively take voluntary measures.


Cooperation between business, science and civil society

The most important success factors for a continuous reduction in peat use in Switzerland are a solid knowledge base of the systemic ramifications in the peat supply chain, cooperation between relevant market participants, and the availability of peat substitutes.

The FOEN is working with committed stakeholders to implement a gradual and continuous reduction in peat use. Through a data collection process, it was able to determine the various sectors and volumes involved in peat use. The FOEN promotes the availability of practical peat substitutes by providing financial support to research projects in this area.


Memorandum of understanding

Memorandum of understanding in production horticulture and garden sales

In the summer of 2019, all the members of the JardinSuisse trade association for the horticulture and garden sector, representatives of retailers, soil producers and the Swiss Confederation signed a further memorandum of understanding to reduce the use of peat in the production horticulture and garden sales (retail and garden wholesale trade). This cooperation is focused particularly on a coordinated reduction in the production of peat-based substrates for plant production and a reduction in the supply and use of plants using peat, both in production horticulture and by retailers and garden centres. This is a second important step in implementing the Federal Council’s peat exit plan.

With an annual peat consumption of 129,000 m3, the production horticulture and garden sales market is one of the largest in volume with a 25 % share. The biggest percentage is used in ornamental plant cultivation (87,000 m3), followed by tree nurseries (22,000 m3), landscape gardening (16,000 m3) and garden wholesale trade (4,000 m3). This second memorandum of understanding requires the signatories to reduce the percentage of peat used in the production and supply of ornamental plants (bedding and balcony plants), indoor plants, herbaceous perennials and ornamental trees and shrubs in containers or pots using peat to a maximum of 50 % by 2025 and 5 % by 2030.

As a producer or supplier, would you like to help reduce the use of peat? Are you interested and would you also like to sign the existing memorandum of understanding? Then please contact us directly (see contact box, top right).

Memorandum of understanding in the hobby gardening sector

In the summer of 2017, representatives of the retail trade, soil producers, the JardinSuisse trade association and the Swiss Confederation signed a memorandum of understanding to reduce the use of peat in the production, supply and consumption of packaged soils for end users in Switzerland. By signing the memorandum, they made a voluntary commitment to reduce the percentage of peat in packaged soils to a maximum of 5 % by 2020. This was the first step towards implementing the Federal Council’s peat exit plan.

The retail and garden centre business is the largest market, with 171,000 m3 of peat use per year, or 32 % of the volume. 99,000 m3 of this is sold in the form of packaged soil.

As a soil supplier, would you like to help reduce the use of peat? Want to join the other market participants today and sign this memorandum of understanding? Then contact us directly (see contact box, top right).

Interim result: Percentage of peat in packaged soil halved between 2016 and 2018

The signatories to the memorandum of understanding committed to report annually on the volumes of peat sold in packaged soils in order to monitor the agreed objective. An evaluation of the data shows that the eight companies involved (Coop, Ernst Meier AG, Jumbo AG, Landi Schweiz AG, Lidl Schweiz AG, Migros Genossenschaftsbund MGB, ökohum GmbH, RICOTER Erdaufbereitung AG) made great progress in reducing peat between 2017 and 2018 and have already made it possible to save large quantities of peat during this period (see Figure 1).

Reduction of peat in packaged soils for hobby gardening between 2016 and 2018
Figure 1: Total amount of processed substrates including percentage of peat in packaged soils for hobby gardening. (Data: Coop, Ernst Meier AG, Jumbo AG, Landi Schweiz AG, Lidl Schweiz AG, Migros Genossenschaftsbund MGB, ökohum GmbH, RICOTER Erdaufbereitung AG).

The percentage of peat in packaged soils at the participating companies fell by 3% between 2016 and 2017, and by another 5% in the following year. This means that the average percentage of peat in packaged soils has halved. Approximately 25'000 m3 of peat, i.e. a peat layer of 1 m height on 3.5 football pitches has already been saved only in 2018

In the meantime, two more companies have undertaken to reduce their peat use: Aldi Suisse AG signed the memorandum of understanding in November 2019, and COMPO Jardin AG in January 2020.  2021will show whether the objective of reducing the peat content to a maximum of 5% in packaged soils has been achieved.


Data collection concerning peat imports and peat use in Switzerland

Based on the data collected from retailers (including home improvement stores, garden centres, furniture stores, etc.) in 2014, private gardening is the most relevant application area for peat reduction in Switzerland due to the annual volume of peat used here. In fact, around 171,000 m3 (32 %) of imported peat is used for gardening. It is also used heavily in the professional production of vegetables (147,000 m3; 28 %) and ornamental plants (87,000 m3; 17 %).


Research

To implement the Federal Council’s peat exit plan, the FOEN supports the green industry with various research projects.

Life cycle assessment studies: comparison of peat and peat substitute products

The life cycle assessment research group at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) compared the life cycle assessments of 10 substrate components (including peat) and 7 substrate mixtures. This study assessed the environmental impacts, social aspects, the plant cultivation characteristics and future availability of the substrate components.

To assess other peat substitute components of practical interest, in 2019 the Institute of Environmental Systems and Natural Resources at the ZHAW (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) extended the 2015 study “Peat and Peat Substitutes Compared” to include nine other components. Substrate components from biochars, miscanthus straw, hemp fibre, flax shives, grain husks, reeds and cultivated sphagnum moss were assessed for their environmental impact, social sustainability, plant cultivation characteristics and future availability and were described in a supplementary report.

Tests introducing practical low-peat and peat-free substrates in the production of ornamental plants and vegetables

Although the sector has already significantly reduced the use of peat in hobby gardening, landscape gardening and shrub and tree nursery production, the production of ornamental plants and vegetable seedlings presents a bigger challenge. Greater efforts are therefore required in these production areas to replace the chemical and physical benefits of peat. 

Production of ornamental plants

To promote implementation in ornamental plant cultivation at local level, a three-year pilot project was undertaken to support the introduction of low-peat (≤ 40% peat) and peat-free substrates for cultivation of ornamental plants in ten conventional and organic horticultural enterprises, with specialist monitoring by JardinSuisse and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).

The knowledge gained in the switch to low-peat or peat-free substrates for the production of ornamental plants and in tree nurseries will now be made available to the whole sector through a free advice service. Take this opportunity to obtain free specialist support for one growing period over a year.

Vegetable cultivation

Together with partners and with the support of the Federal Office for Agriculture, Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) has examined ways of reducing peat in pressed pots in vegetable and potted herb cultivation. The project report summarises the results of the cultivation tests using new low-peat organic propagation substrates for vegetable production. Tests were carried out using pressed pots (various vegetables) and potted herbs. Pressed pots can also be made with just 40% peat, and potted herbs can be produced without any peat.

Review and adaptation of “Flyer 113” guidelines

The nutrient and substrate analysis is an essential tool for advising gardeners and for monitoring quality in substrate manufacture. Peat-free substrates are generally a good medium for microorganisms. In peat-free substrates, the interactions between the substrate composition and microorganisms are much more important for the provision of nutrients than for substrates containing peat. This must be taken into account for the assessment of substrates and for fertilising.However, there are currently no guidelines in this regard, as Flyer 113 from 1993 and the guidelines it contains for nutrients in soils are based on peat substrates. In this project, JardinSuisse, Agroscope and RICOTER Erdaufbereitung AG teamed up to define new guidelines for the parameters pH, salt content and various nutrients in water and NH4 extracts for low-peat and peat-free substrates.


Public procurement

Factsheets on near-natural green space design

PUSCH has created three factsheets with recommendations for planning, implementing and maintaining near-natural green spaces, building greenery and changing plant displays (flower borders). The factsheets and practical examples for public procurement are available on the “Kompass Nachhaltigkeit” platform. One of the most important recommendations is to ensure peat-free substrate when buying soil plants and seedlings.


The Federal Council's peat exit plan

On 6 December 1987, around 58% of Swiss voters voted "yes" in the “Rothenturm" popular initiative. Since then, moors and wetlands of special beauty and national importance have been protected.

According to the Swiss Federal Constitution (Art. 78, para. 5), no buildings may be built on them and no changes may be made to the land, which is tantamount to a ban on peat extraction in Switzerland. But peat imports are creating a conflict with applicable law in Switzerland, and the negative environmental impacts are caused abroad. In addition, the habitats of many specific and often threatened plant and animal species are destroyed by peat extraction.

A postulate mandated the Federal Council in 2010 to study measures to reduce peat imports and the use of peat in Switzerland or even to ban them. In the peat phase-out concept that was adopted in 2012, the Federal Council establishes a two-phase approach to implementing a complete peat phase-out. It gives priority to the implementation of voluntary measures for the reduction of peat use.

Further information

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Last modification 06.11.2020

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Laura Tschümperlin
Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
Economics and Innovation Division
Consumption and Products Section
CH-3003 Bern
Tel. +41 58 48 50 765
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