The Heavy Carbon Footprint of Peat Moss in Soil

The Heavy Carbon Footprint of Peat Moss in Soil

While peat bogs only make up about 3% of our planet’s land area, they are our largest carbon sink; they hold almost twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests combined.

Peat moss is a naturally occurring, non-renewable resource that’s being rapidly depleted as we scoop it into our gardens and potted plants. Because of its spongy texture, peat is able to aerate roots while holding water - giving your plants two of its most basic needs. The ecosystems that are mined for peat are a valuable resource for our planet, and the myriad alternatives to peat available give no valid reason to continue mining them.

Peat moss forms in wetlands called peat bogs. This unique ecosystem has been slowly forming in thin layers for thousands of years (think mille crêpes, but boggier). It takes around 1,000 years to grow 3’ in depth. The fresh layers of this thick blanket of moss form a seal on the older, decaying layers of peat creating perfect conditions for a thriving ecological system below. When the top layer of this blanket is mined, the seal is broken and the CO2 created during the decomposition of the peat is released into the atmosphere. Current estimations show that disrupted peat bogs emit the same CO2e as the global population’s air travel does every year.

It’s not only the disruption of peatlands that can generate greenhouse gas emissions, but the after effects of these disruptions. Once the peat has been disrupted and has begun to dry out the material becomes a fire hazard. In southeast Asia alone, fires from peat bogs in September and October of 2015 generated more CO2e than the entire European Union; around 11.3 Tg of CO2 per day.

While the strategies we are developing for mitigating the most dangerous impacts of climate change take into account the way we use and treat our agricultural lands and forests, most do not consider the impact of continued emissions from damaged peatlands. Though damage has been done, there’s still hope to preserve these areas and restore these carbon sinks. In an article published in October of 2020 Henry Fountain from the New York Times writes

"When they plugged peatland data into their own land-use model, they found that land use would be a net carbon source, releasing more carbon dioxide than was stored. The researchers then calculated that protecting pristine wetlands and rewetting about 60 percent of the degraded ones would reverse that, making land use a net sink again.”

Rewetting peatlands and halting the disturbance of these critical areas will support our efforts to keep our planet habitable for future generations. By replacing peat moss in its most common application, a soil mix ingredient, we can help to support the regeneration of these valuable resource. That’s why DEN has worked to find local waste products like fir bark and biochar that can aerate soils, hold extra water and nutrients, and even act as carbon sinks in their own right by disrupting harmful local waste streams (See OurCarbon™ Biochar on our ingredients page).

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