10th November 2021

SCOTSS turns up the heat on peat

Trading standards chiefs in Scotland have raised concerns over the peat content of certain composts.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The onus is on businesses to ensure their labelling is clear as to what is in these products. Only then can consumers make informed choices

A new project spearheaded by the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) is examining the peat content of garden compost. The intitative comes in response to increasing concerns about the ecological damage caused by peat harvesting and the introduction of new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) guidance on misleading environmental claims.

Graeme Paton, Chair of SCOTSS explained: “Garden compost containing peat is currently a legal product but most consumers buying compost are not aware of the potential environmental impact nor that many even contain peat.

“Last month Trading Standards Officers visited retailers across Scotland and examined over 300 bags of compost on sale across Scotland, some containing as much as 90% peat.”

“Officers found that 90% of the garden compost containing peat did not mention this fact prominently on the product.

Peat can be legally incorporated into garden compost, but its use will be banned from 2024. The UK’s peatlands store three times as much carbon as its forests and in Scotland they form more than 20% of total land cover. Peat actively removes and stores carbon from the atmosphere as well as supporting the natural environment more generally.

Paton added: “Peatlands are a powerful natural means of extracting and storing carbon from the environment. Their destruction to use the peat in compost therefore has an adverse impact on our environment, hence the impending ban from 2024. To make an informed choice, consumers need to know to what degree, if any, peat is an ingredient of compost before they choose to buy a product. In the case of most garden compost containing peat sold in Scotland this does not appear to be the case.”

The SCOTSS project was influenced by recent Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) research, which found that more than half of gardeners (57%) admit to not knowing what is in their shop-bought potting compost. The RHS advised: “If the bag doesn’t say peat-free, then it most likely isn’t.”

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, commented: “Officers in Scotland have done excellent work at a time when government and citizens are seeing environmental issues as their number-one priority. Consumers have the right to know important information about products before they buy them and failing to highlight the presence of peat on the front of a bag of compost means they are being misled and might make a different decision if it was correctly marked.

“The onus is on businesses to ensure their labelling is clear as to what is in these products. Only then can consumers make informed choices.”

SCOTSS will issue guidance to Scottish Trading Standards Officers highlighting the findings of the project to allow them to better advise producers and retailers on their responsibilities where issues were found with their products.

3 responses to “SCOTSS turns up the heat on peat”

  1. Alan Conroy says:

    Only slightly creative. If this is a serious concern perhaps one of the Scottish TSDs should prosecute.

  2. Alan Conroy says:

    I replied to this late on monday night and realised this morning that I had not actually said what I intended. While it may well be desirable to have clearer labelling, and certainly any misleading labelling should be robustly addressed, the grounds for claiming breaches of law here are unclear. The existence of a green agenda in Government does not of itself impose a liability on companies to add more information. If there is not a certainty that there is a breach of law here, as opposed to a failure of a moral obligation to provide more information, then perhaps suggestions of misleading behaviour are premature? If there is such certainty then no doubt a prosecution will follow swiftly should there be a failure to respond appropriately. It is far from clear though to see how a breach of law is made out here in the absence of a specific labelling requirement.

  3. gary urquhart says:

    Given that the CMA failed in a recent case regarding “administration charges” v Care UK (average consumer and transactional decisions mash up…). https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/care-homes-consumer-protection-case#cma-court-action-against-care-uk

    I don’t think there will be any “green washing” prosecutions unless we have specific legislation addressing it.

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