A new Responsible Sourcing of Growing Media Scheme could help you make more informed choices about the eco-friendliness of the compost you buy
No keen gardener can be unaware of the call to stop using peat. It is an issue that has been raging within professional horticulture for more than three decades. But although companies such as Melcourt have been blazing a trail with very effective peat-free products since the 1990s, it is only in recent years that peat and its problems have come to the attention of the wider gardening public.
The case against further peat harvesting has been pretty well made, although some do still question the validity of the arguments. However, the value of undisturbed peatlands as a unique habitat, the huge quantities of carbon that are secured within them and the value of peat soils in flood mitigation are all undisputed factors.
Impact of peat ban
But if peat use ceases, what impacts do the alternatives have? Could we be facing a frying pan into the fire situation? In 2019, UK horticulture and gardening used a total of 4.5 million cubic metres of growing media – and just under 2 million of this was peat.
In 2011, the UK government set up a task force to look at the barriers to further peat reduction within UK horticulture. At Melcourt we were active participants and one of the few manufacturers who were and always have been, completely peat-free.
What does the scheme do?
A key outcome of the task force was the creation of the Responsible Sourcing of Growing Media Scheme. This seeks to bring far greater transparency to what exactly is contained within composts and what the impacts of these ingredients are. For many years it was only peat that was under the spotlight while other materials were largely escaping scrutiny.
The Responsible Sourcing Scheme looks at seven different aspects of ingredients from an environmental and social impacts standpoint:
- How much energy is used to both make it and transport it?
- How much water is required to prepare it?
- What impact does it have on habitat and biodiversity?
- Is it renewable?
- Resource use efficiency – how much waste is created by its manufacture?
- Does its manufacture cause pollution?
- What are the social compliance issues associated with it?
Who’s behind the scheme?
The scheme has been created by a cross-industry panel from all interest groups. These include growers, manufacturers, conservation bodies such as the RSPB, the RHS, retailers such as B&Q and Homebase, the Horticultural Trades Association and Defra.
It requires participating manufacturers to present data on all seven criteria for every bulk ingredient they use. The ingredient is given a score, which is dependent on the impacts it causes.
These days most composts are blends of more than one ingredient and so the scores for each are combined, resulting in an overall ‘Responsibility Index’ for a product. In this way the true impact of a product, whatever it is made up from, can be judged.
For a manufacturer like us, it is a considerable amount of work to gather all of the data – but for the consumer or garden centre buyer, the result is a much more robust purchasing decision based on fact rather than supposition. It’s hoped the Responsible Sourcing Scheme will start being used commercially this spring. Look out for the distinctive logo on point-of-sale materials.
First, there will be a logo for manufacturers and retailers to use for those who have joined the scheme and meet its criteria:
There will also be a logo that will be used on point of sale to indicate where a product lies on a scale of A to E. The draft versions are below:
For more information, go to the Responsible Sourcing Scheme website.