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A Pittsburgh soil-maker wants to help gardeners to stop using peat, a big carbon emitter

  • An-Li Herring/WESA
Ambridge-based PittMoss makes peat-free soil by using recycled paper and cardboard.

 Courtesy of PittMoss

Ambridge-based PittMoss makes peat-free soil by using recycled paper and cardboard.

Despite its connection to the outdoors, gardening contributes significantly to climate change because most store-bought soils contain peat. When extracted from boggy peatlands, the anaerobic substance emits high levels of carbon dioxide.

But an Ambridge-based company that sells a peat-free alternative to standard soil reports its product is catching on with consumers. PittMoss says it has embarked on a $10 million fundraising campaign to expand its operations to six additional factories across the U.S.

The company, which first received investment in 2015 through the ABC television series Shark Tank, has experienced a dramatic increase in sales over the last two years, according to president and CEO Brian Scott.

“The market is a thousand percent different than it was seven years ago,” he said. “People just didn’t know how bad peat was for the environment that long ago. And now you’re starting to see people searching for peat-free soils.”

Representing the world’s largest carbon sinks, peatlands store more than twice as much carbon as the planet’s forests, despite covering just 3% of the globe’s surface. The United Nations launched an initiative in 2016 to scale back peat harvesting. Last year, the United Kingdom announced it would prohibit retail sales of peat by 2024, with a complete ban to follow in 2030.

PittMoss has conducted trials of its soil with the Royal Horticultural Society, a gardening charity in the UK, according to Scott. The product has already won endorsements in well-known publications: Last year, Better Homes & Gardens declared the startup’s organic potting mix to be the best overall soil for indoor and outdoor plants, and last week Country Living named the same item the best peat-moss free soil.

PittMoss primarily uses recycled paper and cardboard to make its growing media. Scott said the company’s plan to build facilities in other regions of the country will further promote sustainability.

“Every city has paper and cardboard waste [so the planned expansion] makes everything hyperlocal, which reduces cost [and] environmental footprint” by shortening supply chains, he said.

Today, PittMoss employs between 15 and 40 workers in Ambridge, depending on seasonal demand.

Prior to its current fundraising round, the company had attracted $6.4 million in investment while generating $3.5 million in revenue, Scott said. He noted that about $2.5 million of those sales have occurred since 2021, reflecting an acceleration in growth. He expects the company to become profitable at its Ambridge plant in the next year or two. But he added, the company’s overall profitability depends on how quickly it can launch operations at new facilities.

PittMoss products are available at more than 30 garden centers in the Pittsburgh area, Scott said. Shoppers can also buy directly from the company’s website or Amazon.

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