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Peat compost – should it come at a higher price?

Planting in soil

Environmentalists seem to be forging ahead in the peat war, with groups calling for a levy to be paid on all peat products. The question is, are you happy to be a peat-free gardener, or will you pay for the privilege of peat?

Peat has long been a subject of debate in horticultural circles. Some growers and journalists (such as The Sun’s Peter Seabrook) are peat devotees, claiming that it’s essential for healthy plants.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, claim that peat is a valuable wildlife habitat and an important carbon store – and that alternatives to it must be found.

It appears that the government has listened to the environmentalists. Defra is currently consulting the industry about phasing out horticultural peat over the next two decades. So whether gardeners and growers like it or not, it looks as if peat-based compost’s on its way out.

With the peat-free targets in mind, many compost manufacturers are working on alternatives to peat. But bizarrely some are also bringing out products this year that contain more peat than ever – one is said to contain 90% peat.

Levy for peat products

Now conservation groups and gardening suppliers, lead by the RSPB, have called on the government to introduce a levy on peat products bought from garden centres in the March budget – probably at a cost of around £2.40 on a 60 litre bag.

They say that this would encourage consumers to use peat-free alternatives and would also provide funding to restore damaged peat bogs in the UK.

RSPB conservation director Mark Avery says: ‘We have got rid of lead in our petrol, CFCs in our aerosols and DDT in our countryside – so why is this dinosaur industry still lumbering along causing untold damage to our environment?’

How peat-free fares in our trials

Here at Which? Gardening, we’ve yet to find a great peat-free compost for seed sowing or growing on young plants. However we’ve had a Best Buy peat-free compost for plants in containers for two years running, so clearly it is possible to make a good compost that doesn’t contain peat.

Do you think peat in compost rates alongside DDT, CFCs and lead? Are you a die-hard peat fan and are you prepared to pay a levy to keep using it?


Simply charging more is not enough. For example, many people buy cars with a high fuel consumption despite high fuel taxes.

Introduce a surcharge and use every penny to fund research to develop improved products that match the performance of peat. Then phase out peat and peat-based products.

To me £10 a bag levy is not enough – let alone £1 a bag –

If a high fuel consumption car was taxed at £500,000 per car – they wouldn’t sell – so the manufacturer would develop a similar car with low fuel consumption. The high fuel consumption is the easy option.

We need to replace or renew the peat bogs – not continually remove the peat – over time peat is sustainable – but not using the wholesale excavation method used today.

If peat was really expensive .then it would pay for far more organic waste being recycled rather than go to land fill sites.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 March 2011

It should purely and simply be banned. Peat is renewable at too slow a rate for our level of consumption.

On that basis we should ban a lot of other things that are damaging the environment, but it is not practical to do this overnight.

A more sensible approach would be to decide that something will be banned in ten years, giving manufacturers time to research and develop good alternatives. If this had been done, peat and peat-based products could have been phased out by now.

I’m very glad I was born after the second world war, but it offered plenty of examples of what can be achieved when there is real pressure to solve problems.

terry maynard says:
16 March 2022

Nobody has thought this through as a grower i use peat compost as there is no alternative ,Ok the amateur can use coya but if the trade used it we would use the worlds resourses within one hour, if we use green waste it would be all used within one day .That is the amount we use . So if we go back to my parents nursery days 1950s the compost was home made ok no peat was used but were did it come from the turf was taken off fields stacked upside down in huge squares then after a year you cut into it and make a john innes compost by adding chempack fertiliser mix ,It was heaving in wire worm and leather jackets that we squashed as they eat plant roots . Going back to green waste the public put in every diseased plant weeds that are pests millions of weed seeds that do not rot away in a compost heap The old way was to put waste through a steriliser that runs on gas and electric . The way the councils compost green waste is a laugh it never builds up enough temperature and 90% is not sterilised .Just spread out your green waste compost in seed trays and it will be a sea of weeds within 2 weeks ,and rife in diseases mildew, botrytis ,blight plus other fungus ,

‘Taxing’ peat compost in the UK would be pretty pointless while every Irish cottage burns peat briquettes that can be bought at the nearest shop.

Brian Irving says:
1 April 2011

My own personal practical experience of using both peat free & peat based compost for potting-on over a number of years has shown peat free to be a complete & utter waste of time & cost. In winter, once soaked it takes ages to dry out, frosts come along & kill the plants. In summer it dries out so fast plants die off unless you have the means & time to constantly water them. That is the reality.
(The latest one being Westland Earth Matters)
Basic retail costs for both are around 10p per litre. Not only does it cost you the compost but also the cost of the lost potted-on plant.
I use Westland MP with added John Innes (60% peat) & find this to be excellent for seeds, potting-on young plants & also container plants ie all three catagories “Which” monitor.
The RSPB write-up states “Which? in March showed that peat-free composts out performed the best peat-based counterparts” but this is only what they want you to read, not the whole story.
Yes, New Horizon did come top for Container Plants (joint with the above Westland product) but the majority of peat-free products occupied the lower part of the list. Reverting then to the results for Sowing Seeds & Growing on young plants, surprise, surprise, peat-free composts dominate the lower charts & “Don’t Buy”s. They don’t tell you this!!!
If they are to publish something then let’s have all the facts & figures so we can then make a balanced judgement on which compost to use.

Ian Day says:
6 April 2011

A peat tax will only deal with the symptoms it will not address the causes. We need more taxes in this country like a hole in the head. The cost of collecting this small amount of tax will not be acceptable to the Treasury so it’s a non starter. Why not turn the idea on it’s head and reduce the 20% tax we already pay for peat free compost – collection cost zero, but the impact will be the same.

Newby says:
20 April 2011

It`s all very well to say add an extra £2.40…but not everyone can afford this in the present climate. People are watching there pennies let alone pounds as it is. Some people are growing their own to save money so by adding to extra almost defeats the object, as you`d need more than just one bag. I for one would NOT pay the extra.

Jon Knight says:
13 May 2011

wavechange said, “A more sensible approach would be to decide that something will be banned in ten years, giving manufacturers time to research and develop good alternatives. If this had been done, peat and peat-based products could have been phased out by now.”

I seem to remember reading that the peat industry were given a target by the UK Government back in the twilight years of the 20th century to become 90% peat free by 2010:


So they’ve had plenty of warning… time to get serious with them I think.

Thanks for this information Jon. Maybe RSPB’s suggestion of a levy is the best approach.

Brian Irving says:
13 May 2011

Looking at the correspondence published since my offering on the 1st April, I suggest those interested take a look at http://www.glendoick.com/index.php?page=faq-peat & then decide which side of the fence they are on.
To reiterate, the “do gooders” should tell us all the facts & figures so we can then make a balanced judgement on which compost to use.
PS I note that “my” Westland compost standard retail price is still £5.99 as it was earlier this year for 60L bags but these are now down to 50L, 10p per L up to 12p, a 20% increase.
The RSPB idea of £2.40 per 60L bag tax = 4p per L 40% extra cost on top of this.
Virtually all my compost goes into potting up plants donated to four local charities for their plant sales, who then raise hundreds of pounds a year for their good causes.
Such a tax would almost certainly deny them these funds ’till such a time I felt confident there was a peat free alternative at a reasonable price to use as a substitute.

Pro gardener says:
2 September 2012

the whole facts on the issue of peat are not being given, plants from abroad will still come into this country potted in peat and nearly all nurseries.garden centers, DIY and such purchase these.
We are being fed hostile threats from those who need to push the peat free, beware and question them for the whole facts from both sides. What we really need on compost is best buy use dates as most stacked bags of compost are not fit for use. Beware!!!

Maureen Rosegarden says:
28 March 2014

Most comments here are are well over a year old and I guess this will be the latest being 2014.
I arrived here when searching on the WHICH website for advice on best soils etc for growing
seed and saw that most recommended peat based compost and the reasons why included
that peat free composts do not hold water as well as peat and is light for seeds.
Being new to producing plants from seed for the food table and starting out last year to have a little go at the veg/salad
production,>I purchased a variety of manufactured compost bags last year that were low or
exempt of peat and found that most were from recycled too much rubbish and not fine enough
and had to work at getting anything really worthwhile.Meanwhile I worked hard at recycling my
own and invested in further compost bins (had 2 but increased to 4) and this Spring found we had a ton of beautiful compost from just one large bin, so my advice is make your own, as last year
I had a little of the same from a smaller compost bin and everything put to it grew and grew well.
So, perhaps the answer is do it yourself for this way everyone is a winner and there is plenty of help on line and I hope now a little more.