Veolia has urged the UK Government to implement a ban on the destruction of peatlands for compost, arguing that such a policy will be necessary to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Peatland covers around 10% of the UK, with the national stock estimated to embody around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. But around 80% of this habitat is currently degraded, meaning it is incapable of sequestering further carbon.
Veolia believes that a key driver of this degradation is the horticulture sector. It estimates that 280,000 tonnes of peat are removed from UK peatlands in order to produce products such as compost and soil conditioner. Moreover, a further 525,000 tonnes are imported to the UK annually for horticultural uses.
Given that 10 tonnes of peatland can sequester the same amount of carbon as one mature tree, the UK’s peat consumption for horticulture is, therefore, equivalent in carbon mass to felling 80,500 trees annually, Veolia claims.
Moreover, demands for growing media are growing steadily, with few retailers having signed the Government’s voluntary 2011 commitment to peat product reduction. This means that around one-third of the growing media sold in the UK each year, by weight, is peat.
“Peatlands are currently being destroyed at breakneck speed in the UK – at this rate, a vital ecosystem along with its wildlife and broader environmental value will be lost,” Veolia’s chief technology and innovation officer for the UK & Ireland, Richard Kirkman, said.
“Government must act on two fronts; incentivise peat-free compost for consumers while discouraging peat use through a phased, wholesale ban. If we are serious about our planet’s health and children’s’ futures we need a root and branch removal of such a ruinous practice, especially when there is an alternative readily on hand to replace it.”
The alternative to which Kirkman is referring is what gives Veolia a vested interest in peat-related policy. The firm currently produces more than 150,000 bags of peat-free compost, called Pro-Grow, annually in the UK.
Pro-Grow is made using organic household waste, sourced through 10 of Veolia’s composting facilities across the UK. Such facilities are fed with stocks such as domestic garden waste and food waste – both streams of resources which are likely to increase under the Government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy.
Published in draft form last December, the Strategy proposes mandatory and universal household food collections from all local authorities in England. This proposal has been widely welcomed across the green economy, with The Co-op having this week urged Ministers to fast-track the change.
The Strategy additionally proposes free garden waste collections for all UK households with gardens, in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfilling organic waste.
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