The UK’s horticulture industry launches nationwide projects to grow customer knowledge on peat-free gardening

DIDCOT, UK: Helping millions of consumers to be part of efforts to end peat use in horticulture is at the centre of two new schemes being launched this month. This is part of a series of actions planned by the horticulture industry’s Growing Media Taskforce to help remove peat by 2025-2028 in retail and 2028-2030 in plant and tree production.  

E-learning and on-pack labelling will go live at garden centres this month. The e-learning will help garden retailers provide the best advice on peat-free products, while the on-pack Responsible Sourcing Scheme will enable consumers to quickly and easily check the sustainability rating of growing media products. With gardeners of all ages and ability increasingly keen to make environmental lifestyle choices and 48 per cent of GB adults (around 25 million) purchasing some compost last year, the schemes aim to educate an audience which is engaged and keen to learn more.

The e-learning has been designed and written by the Horticultural Trades Association and the Garden Centre Association, supported by the Growing Media Association, Royal Horticulture Society and National Farmers’ Union. It contains five modules covering: the importance of Peatlands; the Responsible Sourcing Scheme; choosing the right product for the right purpose; converting peat users and peat alternatives.

Supported by Defra, the training will be made available to almost 2,000 garden retail businesses across the country and unlocking the potential for more than five million customers to improve their understanding of choosing and using peat-free products. It consists of five modules, looking at the importance of Peatlands; the Responsible Sourcing Scheme; right product, right purpose; converting peat users and peat alternatives.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Reducing peat use across the amateur horticultural sector will be integral to the long-term health of our precious peatlands.

“By promoting the benefits of peat-free products, this new e-learning will help gardeners across the UK to make informed, sustainable choices and play their part in protecting our environment, in line with our 25 Year Environment Plan and commitments to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Mike Burks, Chairman of the Garden Centre Association, said: “Garden centre staff have the perfect opportunity to help customers make responsible decisions when shopping for growing media or soil improvers. They can help those who struggle to identify the correct product for the task they are trying to achieve or who lack the confidence or skill to embrace new ways of gardening using peat-free products. This training will help staff to have these kinds of conversations and to educate gardeners about the positive impact they can have.”

Retailers and growing media manufacturers are also preparing to promote a new scheme, the Responsible Sourcing Scheme, to help consumers establish how responsible a growing media product is. It will provide a scoring system that rates criteria such as water use, energy use and pollution, to give an overall rating for each product – much like the energy ratings for domestic appliances – A for the most sustainable and E for the least. A QR code printed on the bag will enable consumers to quickly check the ingredients and find out the product’s rating before choosing to purchase.

The scheme is the result of years of work to bring manufacturers, government and environment charities together to establish something simple out of a large amount and complex variety of industry information. It aims to make it easier and therefore more popular for customers to check the ingredients of the product, as Steve Harper, Chair of the Responsible Sourcing Scheme, explains:

“Helping consumers to make informed decisions about the purchases they make is essential and an important part of industry efforts to take decisive action to see an end to peat use in horticulture. The Responsible Sourcing Scheme, which though in its infancy now, still has 90 per cent of manufacturers signed up, and will continue to improve as we add more products and complete more evaluations, providing consumers with all the information they need to make responsible purchases.”

Together, these two inventive schemes are part of a cross-industry collaboration to deliver a peat-removal plan. The 8-point scheme was presented to Government last year to phase out peat by sourcing quality alternatives. This needs Government support to unlock the regulations which are holding back the industry’s efforts to source alternative materials to peat.

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