Horticultural Peat Alternatives

Peatlands, which are acidic, waterlogged wetlands, occupy only 3% of Earth’s surface but store 25% of its total soil carbon. When peatlands are disturbed, for example drained for agricultural development or peat mining, they turn into large-scale sources of CO2

Damaged or drained peatlands worldwide are estimated to emit about 2 billion MTCO2 each year. Even if peatlands are later restored, research has found they often do not regain their prior capacity to store carbon for many decades. Under certain conditions, restored peatlands may even release more methane emissions than the CO2 they sequester.

Peat Alternatives Timeline

The CC Lab plans to develop educational materials in collaboration with several peat alternative producers to target non-professional consumers of peat products, such as amateur gardeners and houseplant owners, who buy small volumes of potting soils. These materials will include life-cycle analyses (LCAs) quantifying the embodied carbon emissions of peat-based products and comparing them with peat alternatives. Subsequently, the CC Lab will conduct outreach efforts to connect with professional growers, such as farms and nurseries, to determine what incentives would be required to convince these industries to make the switch, and to implement them.


Identify commercially available peat alternative products


Reach out to current producers & consumers of peat products and alternatives


Develop partnerships for market development


Develop an educational effort on peat alternatives for consumers


Partner with industries to switch to peat alternative products

Better choices for the climate

In North America, peat is extracted primarily for horticultural use. Peat products are used in potting soil blends, in tree nurseries, to grow mushrooms and vegetables, and on golf courses. Effective and cost-efficient alternatives to peat are available on the market, but do not have widespread adoption. 

Peat-alternative producers expect that as consumers learn how peat extraction harms fragile ecosystems and the climate, they will be more inclined to choose peat-free products. 

For household gardeners, switching to peat-free products may be an easier choice. However, it will be significantly more difficult, but potentially more impactful, to prompt commercial growers to choose peat-free soil blends.

Plant and lichen community growing in a peat bog. As Sphagnum mosses decompose, they form layers of peat which can be many meters deep. CC Lab, 2019.
Plant and lichen community growing in a peat bog. As Sphagnum mosses decompose, they form layers of peat which can be many meters deep. CC Lab, 2019.

Read a National Geographic article featuring the CC Lab to learn more

"Potting soil has a dirty secret," National Geographic, 2022.

Risks & Risk Mitigation

Life cycle emissions of peat products vs. peat alternatives

Certain peat alternatives which already exist on the market, for example coconut coir, may have higher carbon footprints than peat because they must be transported across longer distances to reach US markets

A robust LCA, examining all aspects of product extraction, refinement, transport, and post-harvesting site restoration will be needed to determine which alternative products the CC Lab should support.

Market Adoption

Displacing an already entrenched product brings numerous challenges. Slow adoption by consumers and lack of consumer awareness around the issue pose significant challenges. Even if effective alternatives exist, encouraging consumers to switch from a product they have long relied on may be a slow process.

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