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
In the summer of 2017, representatives of retailers, garden centres, soil manufacturers, the trade association of gardeners and the Swiss Confederation signed a memorandum of understanding to reduce peat use in Switzerland. This is the first step toward 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. That is why this first memorandum of understanding aims to reduce the use of peat in the production, supply and consumption of packaged soils for end users in Switzerland. The memorandum draws on individual approaches already in use in the industry.
The partners in the memorandum of understanding include businesses that are involved in soil manufacturing and processing, retailers that offer soil product lines, as well as associations and the federal government. To date, 9 organisations have signed the memorandum of understanding and agreed to continuously and steadily reduce the use of peat in their specific sector (see the list below).
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 the contact information in the box in the upper right hand corner).
Working group on phasing out peat in gardening
The working group on phasing out peat at retailers and garden centres is a temporary, voluntary collaboration of business and public organisations, which includes scientific and social organizations.
It focuses on soil, ornamental plants and seedlings at retail garden centres. One of the working group’s main concerns was to make use of approaches that are already being applied by committed market participants and promote an industry-wide, continuous reduction in the use of peat.
The working group’s mission includes:
- planning and carrying out a substantial and measurable reduction in peat imports and peat consumption in
- jointly pursuing concrete peat reduction goals at retail garden centres
- promoting peat reduction in the professional/ commercial use of soil, ornamental plants, seedlings, gardening and tree nurseries
- identifying measures, levers and multipliers that can increase the impact of reduction efforts
- promptly implementing measures and monitoring progress and goal achievement
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%).
Datenerhebung Torfimport und Torfverwendung in der Schweiz 2014 (PDF, 648 kB, 26.01.2016)Studie im Auftrag des BAFU
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 and future availability of the substrate components.
As substrates, topsoil, bark compost, TEFA corn fibres, wood fibres and wood chips have fewer environmental and social impacts and are available in greater supply for the future. Coconut fibres and compost, however, are linked to a higher total environmental impact.
Torf und Torfersatzprodukte im Vergleich (PDF, 3 MB, 22.12.2015)Studie mit Unterstützung des BAFU
Tests introducing practical low-peat substrates in the production of ornamental plants
Despite extensive research, only a small percentage of peat substitute products are used to produce ornamental plants in Switzerland. This is due, in part, to the transfer from test to production parameters (upscaling), as well as lacking knowledge on the use of substitute substrates and the resulting business risk.
To encourage the practical use of these substitutes, a project was started in 2017 with ten gardeners. The project will last three years and support the introduction of low-peat and peat-free substrates in ornamental plant production.
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.
Last modification 03.12.2018
Any questions may be addressed to
Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
Economics and Innovation Division
Consumption and Products Section
Tel. +41 58 48 50 570