Over the various stages of its life cycle, the bringing of peat to purchasers (distribution stage) has the most significant impacts in the categories of Human health, Aquatic acidification and Aquatic eutrophication. For these four indicators, potential damage attributable to distribution is mostly due to transport of products by truck. The identification of this major hot-spot has made it possible to bring out the following key parameters with respect to Canadian peat production:
- Cargo weight, especially for transport by truck
- Number of trips between the processing facility and the delivery location, especially for transport by truck
- Mode of transport (rail or road)
The profile of the Ecosystem Quality indicator is also most affected by the distribution/transportation stage. However, this indicator does not take into account the impact of processing and on-site activities. Indicators complementary to the eLCA have been developed in collaboration with the Peatland Ecology Research Group (PERG) in order to make up for this limitation of the assessment.
Profiles in the categories of Climate change and Resources use are much more nuanced than they are in the categories Human health, Aquatic acidification and Aquatic eutrophication. It must be noted that peat decomposition at the end of life is the most significant impact in the Climate change category, followed by peat decomposition in situ. The CO2 emissions after closure of the harvesting site are greatly reduced if the site is immediately returned to its peatland state.
In the Resources use category, the volume of peat vacuumed at the time of harvest is responsible for almost all impact (the peat harvested is itself considered as a resource use). The peat oxidation in the harvesting site (decomposition in situ) contributes also to this indicator by the resource lost induced.
On the other hand, at the harvest stage, a significant portion of the damage and impacts in all categories result from the intensity of machine use: the activities of annual upkeep of ditches, site preparation (with harrow and leveler) and the harvest of peat, taken together, generate most of the impacts. Consequently, the intensity of machine use must be seen as a key parameter.
In light of these findings, it sounds wise to promote the restoration of sites in wetland ecosystems dominated by sphagnum moss cover and to limit site rehabilitation (berry crops, forest plantations, etc.) to areas where conditions on the ground do not allow for peatland restoration.