Demand for peat-free houseplants grows in 2021

Houseplants are a huge hit with Millennials and Gen Z but usually contain peat, a soil-like substance that is terrible for the environment. Luckily alternatives are finally gaining traction.

If you’ve ventured into somebody else’s home in the last year outside of lockdowns, it’s highly likely you’ve seen at least a few houseplants scattered about.

Purchasing plants designed for interior spaces has become a huge industry – in 2018 sales grew by more than 50%. In 2019 this rose by a further 60% and the BBC estimates that four in five 16 to 24-year-olds own at least one houseplant.

It’s not hard to see why they’re doing so well. Making your living spaces a little greener offers both physical and mental health boosts, as well as ample opportunities for aesthetically pleasing Instagram posts.

However, despite their connotations with clean living, most are actually detrimental to the environment. The vast majority are grown in peat, a deposit also known as turf. Mining peat releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere, effectively making it the ‘fast fashion’ equivalent of gardening.

Consumer knowledge on peat has historically been non-existent despite the rising interest in houseplants, though suppliers of eco-friendly alternatives say things are now beginning to change.

Supplier Harriet Thompson has seen a 200% boost in 2021 sales compared to last year, according to The Telegraph, with social media platforms helping to spread the message.

What is so bad about peat?

The main issue with commercial peat is how we source it. Peat is produced when bog plants decompose – carbon is locked away from the atmosphere and kept in the ground. Peat has to be physically mined out of these bogs, which are drained and eventually destroyed.

There are some obvious and negative effects from draining bogs. As soon as the work begins and the bog is disrupted, greenhouse gases immediately begin to emit into the atmosphere. This continues even after mining is finished.

Secondly, peat that is used on gardens and in houseplants contains carbon, which turns into carbon dioxide and adds to greenhouse gas levels.

Peat bogs are also home to unique wildlife such as birds and butterflies, as well as wild plants. Once a peat bog is drained this ecosystem is damaged significantly and in some cases completely eradicated.

It is very hard to restore a peat bog than it is to replace trees, for example, making most peat mining operations irreversible.

What are the alternative options?

All that doesn’t sound so dandy, eh?

If peat mining has put you off traditional houseplants, there are a variety of alternatives available, though they’re mostly independently run and in limited supply for now. Sourcing plants that do not use peat has been a struggle for Britain’s biggest gardening membership organisations.

The National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society are trying to find peat-free supplies for a while, but both say they’re unable to find adequate supplies. Smaller sellers such as Pointless Plants have seen huge spikes in demand, but peat-free options have only just begun to take off in a meaningful way with his customers.

If you want to go direct to the source and grow your plants from scratch, there are peat-free potting mixes available from homeware stores, such as Evergreen Garden Care’s Miracle-Gro. These will get your plants developing nicely without the need for peat products, reducing the overall carbon footprint of your garden significantly.

As for peat-free demand, the numbers look promising. The UK government has a voluntary phase-out date for peat products by professional growers for 2030, and The National Trust is currently working with nurseries to develop a range of peat-free indoor plants for commercial sale by early 2022.

Demand is growing and we soon may all be buying peat-free plants that give the benefits of a greener home without a hefty environmental cost.


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