Environnemental life cycle analysis is an internationally recognised approach for assessing the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their life cycle, from “cradle-to-grave”, by:
- compiling an inventory of relevant inputs and outputs;
- evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs; and
- interpreting the results of the inventory and impact phases in relation to the objectives of the study.
In conjunction with the International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), the Canadian peat industry has conducted Environmental Life Cycle Analyses (eLCA) to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of Canadian horticultural peat. The first analysis was conducted in 2010, but in order to get an up-to-date picture of Canadian production, updates have been made, with the last one dating back to 2017.
The study used a ‘cradle to point-of-sale’ type of eLCA. The general boundaries of the system include all the activities involved in the peat moss production, processing and distribution stages and exclude those related to the peat utilization stage and end-of-life management. The analysis focused on activities and operations that took place in Canada in 2015.
Life cycle of horticultural peat moss
Results of eLCA
Like most life cycle analyses, the results are grouped according to four “impact indicators”: Climate Change, Human Health, Ecosystem Quality and Resources, for the different stages of the peat life cycle included within the boundaries of the system. Routine operations include regular operations related to peat harvesting (harrowing, vacuuming, drainage system maintenance) while non-routine operations include site opening and closing. It is therefore in the non-routine operations that the mode of site closure (restored or not) is taken into account.
The results obtained show that the peat distribution stage to buyers’ markets contributes more than half of the score in the Human Health category and more than 80% of the score in the Ecosystem Quality category. In this respect, the impact reduction factors that producers can influence are related to distribution logistics.
For the Climate Change indicator, we note the importance of decomposition and distribution, which contribute 33% and 30% respectively. Non-routine operations contribute 16%, which is negligible. Sensitivity analyses that explore different modes of closure demonstrate the importance of ecological restoration in reducing this impact. CO2 emissions after peat harvesting are significantly reduced if the site is quickly restored to a functional peatland ecosystem.
In the Resources category, ongoing harvesting operations make the largest contribution, at nearly 62%.