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Peat is petering out - here's why

Damp, smelly, and muddy, no one wants to spend a significant amount of time in a bog - unless you are harvesting peat. This unique natural product is the result of millennia of decomposition and serves as an important fuel source and gardening tool worldwide. However, despite its fascinating origins and versatility, it can actually pose a significant danger to the environment if used unchecked. For this reason, the use of peat is on its way out in several countries that will now have to find alternative ways to compensate for this loss.

Peat is the high-carbon layer of decomposed organic matter like sphagnum moss that has formed over thousands of years under the oxygen-depleted conditions of bogs. It has a variety of natural and human uses. Peat bogs serve as effective carbon sinks because they absorb a lot of dead matter, and provide rich habitats to threatened animals while efficiently absorbing and filtering water to prevent flooding. Furthermore, peat is a source of burnable fuel in countries such as Ireland to generate electricity. In fact, in these countries, including those in the Baltics and Scandinavia, peat is one of the only reliable energy sources as natural resources such as coal and wood are scarce. Peat is also a useful growing medium due to its sterility, preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Unfortunately, the use of peat has some serious negative environmental effects. In fact, since it is a carbon sink, burning it generates more carbon than coal and almost twice as much carbon as natural gas while yielding less energy. For example, peat burning contributed to only 8% of Ireland’s electricity in 2016 yet generated more than 20% of the country’s carbon emissions. Even just harvesting it contributes greatly to releasing carbon into the atmosphere; one hectare of harvested peat is equivalent to driving a car 30,000 kilometers. Furthermore, since peat takes thousands of years to accumulate, it is essentially a non-renewable resource, and poses as a non-sustainable source of fuel.

As a result, several countries like Ireland and England are moving away from using peat. For example, England has pledged to eliminate sales of peat to gardeners starting in 2024 and aims to restore 35,000 hectares of peat bogs by 2025, and Ireland has pledged to end the use of peat completely as a source of fuel by 2027. Restoring peat bogs performs an important environmental benefit; by blocking drains to the peat bogs, water will be able to restore itself as a layer over the peat and prevent additional carbon emissions. Additionally, peat will serve as a carbon sink once again while the bogs provide a rich natural habitat for many animals. Despite its fascinating origins and versatility, peat is better for Earth and humanity’s future as a carbon sink rather than a carbon source


  1. "What is Peat Moss? What is it used for?"

  2. "England’s gardeners to be banned from using peat-based compost." The Guardian.

  3. "Why is peat bad for the environment - and what are the best sustainable alternatives gardeners can use?" The Telegraph.

  4. "Power from peat—more polluting than coal—is on its way out in Ireland" Science.

  5. Picture source: Pexels.com


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