What's The Solution
Is Gardening Without Peat Possible?
Of course! Peat retains water and minerals well, but many sustainable products such as leaf compost or mixtures based on coconut or wood fibers do that just as well (see our FAQs for more details). Good to know: Even the Botanical Garden Amsterdam (De Hortus), with its immense assortment of plants, manages (almost) entirely without peat!
What Can We Do About It?
We need to stop using peat. Let's differentiate.
- Peat in the hands of private gardeners is simply a waste and should be banned as soon as possible.
- Peat for ornamental plants is a convenience. Growing the seedling in peat gives reliable results, but there is no reason to fill the rest of the pot with peat. A shift to such a two-step approach is doable within a few years.
- Peat for seedlings used in precision farming will be the hardest nut to crack. The sterile nature of peat and its highly uniform characteristics bring a significant economic benefit. Replacing peat with renewable materials in the food sector will require years of careful experimentation.
Let's look at how these three user groups can contribute to a greener future.
Do You Need Potting Soil At All?
First of all, check if you really need potting soil. Potting soil is only necessary for the seedling phase of a plant. For many applications like filling the beds, gardening ground and compost are the better options than potting soil. It's much easier to find peat-free gardening ground than peat-free potting soil. Better even: plant your seedlings straight into the full garden ground.
Why do we use peat even for applications where it has little to no benefit? It's the laughably low price of peat, once again.
Where Can You Buy Peat-Free Potting Soil?
We're happy to say that by now, peat-free alternatives are relatively easy to find in the Netherlands.
If it's potting soil you need, here is a list of renewable options.
Ecotuintje sells peat-free, organic, and vegan soil and even peat-free cultivation pots.
Organic nutrition centre sells potting soil based on the residues of the champignon cultivation.
Tardy sells natural compost. You can fetch it at Castricum of Alkmaar.
Pokon sells a peat-free waterproof planting ground.
DCM verkoopt een turfvrije potgrond.
There are a few alternatives based on coconut fibre or cocopeat, but these are not without their own set of problems (transport, plantations on former rainforest or peat bogs, sometimes child labour...). Their overall eco-impact is still much lower than that of peat (LINK) but not as good as the options listed above. Therefore, we haven't included predominantly coco-based products in the list.
Where Can I Buy Plants Without Peat?
Finding plants grown in peat-free soil is even more challenging. Still, we managed to find some sources:
Bastin kwekerij: Peat-free grown plants to be ordered online. Aalbeek (Limburg).
Hessenhof: Organic and peat-free grower from Ede (Gelderland).
Dependens: Organic and peat-free grower from Bennekom (Gelderland).
Arjan Schepers Vaste Planten (Mariënheem, Overijssel) uses and sells his peat- and coco-free potting soil.
Liefhebbersplanten, in Winkel Noord-Holland, use substrates from Bio-Kultura.
De Tuinstek (Tuitjenhorn,Noord-Holland) has almost made it! Their seedlings are grown in 5% peat.
Ninabel kwekerij (Boerakker, Groningen) works peat-free.
If you know about other potting soil producers and growers who work peat-free, please let us know (contact).
Many Labels Are Misleading
If potting soil is not labelled peat-free, you can presume that the main component is peat. Watch out, the label "organic" or "bio" potting soil does not mean peat-free! Only the European Ecolabel does guarantee a peat-free product. Most other (eco-) labels like MPS or RHP allow the use of high percentages of peat.
Ask your local garden center to have peat-free products on their shelves. You can make a big difference!
What Can The Growing Media Industry Do?
The growing media industry is at the core of the transition to a peat-free future. They have to deliver what the market demands, but it demands 'quality' and not 'peat.' Therefore, these companies have tremendous leverage to influence the market.
1) Immediately stop using non-RPP peat (see FAQ’s about the Responsibly Produced Peat (RPP) scheme
2) Campaigning for better availability of alternative materials, e.g., fight against biomass combustion subsidies. Growing media companies can also motivate their professional customers to recycle green waste.
3) Experimentation with alternative mixtures and co-development with their customers.
4) Lead an information campaign about the sensible use of different types of soil products (e.g., potting soil vs. gardening ground).
What Can The Ornamental Sector Do?
The ornamental sector is a considerable peat consumer. In many cases, peat is used as a mere convenience. This fossil source is dirt-cheap and very lightweight so that the customers don't have to carry heavy pots.
The ornamental plant industry can do a lot to become more sustainable.
1) Labeling. Which substrates have been used for your plants? Put a sticker on the pot and provide this information online as well.
2) Plug-only: Grow your seedlings in the technically best potting soil possible, then plant this seedling into a peat-free ground.
3) Recycling: The plug-only strategy will require large amounts of alternative materials. Your work itself generates large quantities of green waste, which in turn could be used to produce potting soil. Collect it and provide it to recycling/ composting companies. Sounds trivial? We wouldn't mention this if we didn't see professional growers simply burning their green waste, producing toxic fine dust instead of growing media.
What Can The Food Sector Do?
The journey to a peat-free world will be the longest for this sector. Safety is critical: for the health of the customers who eat these products and the stability of the food supply chain.
1) Recycling of used growing media for the highest value-added application possible.
2) Differentiate between substrate types. An example: mushroom growers are significant users of peat. Some of them manage to differentiate between a top and bottom layer for their growing media. Peat and non-peat layers are separated after use and recycled accordingly.
3) Lower the peat content in the seedling plugs step by step.
What Could A Path To A Peat-Free Future Look Like?
Turfvrij.nl is promoting a multi-step approach to a peat-free future.
Immediately: Full transparency: comprehensive ingredients lists on all bags and websites where potting soil and gardening ground is sold. We also promote ingredients lists for potted plants.
Short term (until 2024): Ban on peat for private users. It's simply not necessary in most cases. The tiny quantities needed for the seedlings can easily be covered by the small but growing assortment of peat-free alternatives.
Mid-term (2024-2028): Plug-only for the professional market: peat use is limited to seedling plugs (20-50 mL per plant) as far as the availability of alternative substrates allows.
Long-term (2030): Ban on all peat-containing products.
1) Products that can technically not be grown without peat:
1a) Food: Exempted from the rule. However: The burden of proof is on the side of the peat user. Recycling peat is compulsory as far as technically feasible.
1b) Non-food: these products will be banned in the Netherlands from 2030. You will still enter a plant shop thinking, "Wow, how many nice plants do they have."
2) Ban needs to be enacted on the product (not production) level to ensure that domestic industry is not disadvantaged against foreign competition.