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).
- ökohum GmbH
- Ricoter Erdaufbereitung AG
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).
- Ernst Meier AG
- Jumbo-Markt AG
- Landi Schweiz AG
- Lidl Schweiz AG
- ökohum GmbH
- Ricoter Erdaufbereitung AG
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, the plant cultivation characteristics and future availability of the substrate components.
Torf und Torfersatzprodukte im Vergleich (PDF, 3 MB, 22.12.2015)Studie mit Unterstützung des BAFU
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
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 much greater challenge. Greater efforts are required in these production areas to replace the chemical and physical benefits of peat.
To promote implementation at local level, a three-year pilot project began in 2017 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 experience was positive throughout for the ornamental plant producers. In 2018, the second year of the trials, the previous year’s results were either confirmed or bettered and this motivated the enterprises to take further steps to reduce the use of peat.
- The substrate analyses confirmed that the very low nitrogen supply in the main growth phase, particularly in the peat-free substrates, was a problematic bottleneck. It was then important to support the producers in the initial stages in the form of regular substrate analyses and advice on cultivation. Low-peat and particularly peat-free substrates need good fertiliser management along with a modified irrigation regime.
- The content of phosphorus and potassium, the two other core nutrient elements apart from nitrogen, was often well above the JardinSuisse recommendations (up to double). Here, the aggregates in the peat-free/low-peat substrates are the basic nutrient suppliers. Therefore, the test substrates (peat-free/low-peat) are generally better supplied than the standard one, but this does not cause problems in these well-buffered substrates. The bark compost and wood fibre aggregates normally supply quantities of both nutrients (P, K) high enough to make further feeding unnecessary.
- The pH values were stable in the test substrate (peat-free/low-peat) at all the garden centres and were even in the beneficial range below pH 7 in the peat-free substrates. This means that the substrate producers were able to adjust the pH value better than in the past, when too high a value was often a problem.
- In general, the growth period is longer with the heavier low-peat/peat-free substrates, which increases the production costs. Against this, inhibitor use can be partially reduced or even eliminated. By close individual monitoring of cultivation by the adviser and by raising awareness of the need for additional measurements, cultivation using low-peat/peat-free substrates was optimised and the disparity between them and peat substrates could be reduced.
- In the second year of the trial, the differences between each grower’s standard and the low-peat or peat-free substrate were even smaller. The intensive support, closely spaced substrate analyses and adaptations in growing methods all helped to achieve a satisfactory sales quality in practically all the trial businesses in that year.
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 06.08.2019