Hazardous Adsorbents, Part 1: Peat Moss

Peat moss seems pretty innocuous. It’s widely used in horticulture for packing plants, and for compost. There’s more of it in places like Ireland and Finland, known for their wetlands, than anywhere else on Earth. It’s just a harmless organic substance, right?

That’s debatable. Or, we might say, depeatable.

While peat moss (also known as sphagnum moss) is a common landscape feature that thrives in bogs and other moist environments, it also has a high carbon and methane content. When disturbed, these greenhouse gases disperse into the soil, disrupting the ecosystem. Some scientists believe peat bogs are as important and fragile as rainforests, and that by decimating these valuable ecosystems, peat companies are wreaking havoc on the environment.

Nature’s water purifiers

Peat bogs, like other wetlands, are Nature’s water purifiers. They contribute to healthy watersheds and, in some areas, to safe drinking water for nearby populations, filtering an estimated ten percent of global freshwater resources. They also provide effective flood prevention. Destroying a bog destroys these benefits. In addition, the ditches required to extract the peat lower the water table and often negatively impact local waterways.

Peat bogs are also home to rare wildlife, including untold numbers of highly specialized native plants, many of which may be endangered and found only in the peat bog.

Global Cooling Resource

Perhaps the biggest contribution of peat bogs to a healthy environment is as “global coolers,” helping to fight climate change. As the mosses grow, they absorb carbon dioxide, which is locked up within the plant structure as the plants turn to peat. These bogs may contain more carbon than all of the world’s tropical rainforests. Thus, when left in its natural habitat, peat moss acts as a reserve for carbon emissions.

So for peat’s sake, for the good of the planet, leave peat alone. There is a plethora of absorbents that are environmentally sound, effective and affordable. Granted, they’re more useful for spill containment than for packing plants. But without a planet, plants have nowhere to thrive.


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